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Local cosmetic industry remains untouched by economic downturn
Despite the economic downturn, the popularity of cosmetic surgery continues to grow in this country.
Local experts estimated that within the past year, the sector has experienced tremendous growth when compared to 2016.
Former Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan confirmed, “It is becoming increasingly popular for body enhancement in T&T.”
Among the most popular procedures are: breast implants, liposuction, buttock enhancements, tummy tucks, brachioplasty and abdominoplasty.
Khan added, “There are other things such as brow lifts, facial lifts and procedures such as botox and fillers that people are also demanding.”
Acknowledging the high costs of some of these procedures, Khan said, “A lot of people go to Venezuela because it is cheap in terms of the US pricing, as well as there are a lot of surgeons who have been practicing there for a long time and they have that experience.”
He said people also seemed to be accessing such procedures in Colombia and Panama as well, due to the rising crime rate in Venezuela.
In T&T, he said, “There are only a handful of individuals doing these procedures, but tummy tucks seem to be the most popular.”
Admitting he has performed neck lifts, Khan said, “The actual cosmetic industry is increasing as we are seeing the demand for buttock implants, breast implants, under-arm lifts, liposuction, botox, chemical peels and brow lifts.”
He said people were also exploring PRP injections which involves using a portion of the patient’s own blood with the platelet concentration above baseline. This to promote healing of injured tendons, ligaments, muscles, and joints.
Khan said vaginal rejuvenation was a new form of aesthetic medicine being explored locally.
Pressed to speak about what some of these procedures cost, Khan said, “The prices here are very expensive compared to Venezuela and Colombia. You can get a full-body procedure done in Colombia for between US $7,000 to US $8,000 at best, whereas just one part of it will cost that here as tummy tuck in T&T may run a person around US $7,000.”
Echoing her husband’s sentiments, Dr Carol Bhagan-Khan said, “Every aspect of the cosmetic procedures is growing. The non-surgical procedures are very popular.”
These include botox, fillers, localised liposuction and skin-tightening over a period of time.
Bhagan-Khan said, “These procedures are superseding the more invasive things like face lifts.”
She admitted while the non-invasive procedures were the most popular, the cost was prohibitive.
Citing an example using liposuction, Bhagan-Khan said prices could range from $50,000 upwards depending on the area being treated and the size of the patient.
She said, “People ask about it but not many got through with it because it is expensive.”
Agreeing with her husband that breast and buttock enhancements were popular, she said a sculptural butt lift started at $22,000 and had proven to be one of the more affordable procedures being accessed by patients.
Disputing claims that only the upper-class were accessing these types of procedures, Bhagan-Khan informed, “almost across all classes we are seeing people accessing some type of procedure.
“A lot of people are using fillers which range from $3,000 upwards. Many are willing to make the sacrifice and that’s once a year.” A brow lift ranges from $15,000 upwards.
Bhagan-Khan said people were more open now about accessing this type of treatment locally, which she attributed mainly to cable television and the portrayal by celebrities who freely admit to using them to stay fresh, young and vibrant.
“People are not going to go out and advertise it, but they are telling their friends. I am getting a lot more referrals from people who have had procedures done, ” said Bhagan-Khan.
She estimated while the industry had grown by about 30 per cent in the past year, there was room for further expansion as payment plans ensured many more could now access the desired treatment.
She added, “People in their 60s and 70s still want to look attractive. Once you’re going out, meeting people and attending functions, people are taking pride in themselves in terms of how their dress, hair and face looks.
“Now, it has become a lot more popular to look attractive and this way people can still age gracefully but gradually.”
Specialist obstetrician/gynaecologist (ob/gyn) Dr Earl Brathwaite and owner/director at The Venus Clinic, St Augustine, claimed, “Aesthetic gynaecology is a field that is rapidly developing worldwide.”
However, he admitted, “It is one which has remained a taboo subject in the Caribbean.”
Operating for the past year, Brathwaite said, “Women generally know what’s going on with them so often times, they won’t go to a general practitioner. They will seek out an ob/gyn to do a specific thing or manage a specific condition.”
Brathwaite, who has a special interest in aesthetic medicine and laparoscopic surgery, said while they also deliver babies, he and his partner Dr Tricia Sankar offer a full gamut of specialist services which includes gynaecological/surgical services.
Although they focus on issues affecting the lower genital tract in females and general sexual wellness, Brathwaite confirmed the slow but steady demand for their services in T&T as well as from clients in the region, as some fly in to have certain procedures performed before departing the same day.
Zeroing on the progress he has made in the past year, Brathwaite said, “When we first started, a lot of people would call and enquire about our services. We soon realised we had to do some more education as to what we were about. Since then, we have seen quite a lot of people coming in to access treatment.”
Plastic surgery meets dermatology
Going beyond traditional remedies to holistically rejuvenate skin and reinstate its health, The Skin Health Institute (SHI) in Maraval boasts of addressing the superficial appearance of skin and generating temporary improvement via customised treatments which aim to correct cells and repair their functions.
Conceived five years ago by Dr Rachael Eckel, the approach is said to be long lasting and capable of successfully reversing even the most challenging of skin conditions.
Although the SHI has only been operating for the past year, Eckel said her calendar is booked straight through until March 2018.
With skin health restoration as the main focus of their clinical services, the SHI offers cosmetic dermatology, laser clinic, medical aesthestics and gentleman’s tonic.
Having studied at the Royal College of Surgeons, Ireland, the 34-year-old professional said in 2012, the field of cosmetic dermatology was a, “very new field and there was not much available to learn about it.
“It is a little of plastic surgery combined with dermatology.”
Adding that it had always been her dream to return to T&T and set up shop, Eckel said, “I knew when I came home, I had to have something new and different to offer the population.”
She described the patient up-take in the past year as phenomenal.
Eckel said her clinic was changing lives daily, and described her practice as, “not just about some pretty cosmetic thing. We are treating very difficult conditions and getting phenomenal results.”
Registered with the Medical Board of T&T, the SHI offers a range of services including medical grade facial, hydrafacial, the Red Carpet Hollywood facial, stimulator peel, botox, dermal fillers, chemical peels, fat reduction, complexion analysis, laser hair removal, leg vein removal and face-lift.
Eckel said along with changing an individual’s physical appearance, her work also lent itself to improving their self-esteem and pride.
Incorporating a teaching and training element at her current facility where she sees as many as 20 patients a day, Eckel said she continues to promote medical tourism as she provides an opportunity for individuals to come to T&T to learn about these techniques.
Admitting many people continued to think of aesthetic medicine as taboo, she said this definition was outdated.
Pointing to Venezuela where cosmetic procedures were the norm, Eckel said, “When people get a nose job done, they wear the band-aid with pride.”
Regarding the price of the various procedures offered at the SHI, Eckel said, “Good skin care is only expensive if it doesn’t work. But because the patient now has that clarity as they have been properly diagnosed, you no longer need to waste excess money. You end up saving money in the long term.
“Is your priority to spend $15,000 on a Carnival costume that lasts two days or is your priority to have healthy beautiful skin?”
Eckel added, “Cosmetic procedures have been shown to pay for themselves so when you feel better about yourself, you are more productive at work, you have greater work success, more self-esteem, more tolerance to negative situations, more likely to take risks as CEO/manager and having a happier disposition in and out of work.”
Ministry monitoring situation
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health says it will continue to monitor places and individuals offering these types of cosmetic procedures.
Senior officials admitted it was a growing sector, adding that they could not prevent anyone from establishing such a facility or providing associated services once they satisfied the necessary criteria.
They stressed their main function was to ensure such places met the required operating standards in terms of physical facilities and medical offerings.
Pointing to the role of the Medical Board, officials said it was up to them to ensure practitioners were licensed and registered to operate their respective offices.
An official from the Medical Board confirmed their limited role as he explained, “unless a specific complaint is brought to us regarding a doctor, we cannot get involved.
“Doctors are supposed to come to us to be registered but other than that, we don’t have much power to do anything else. If a complaint is made against someone, only then can we step in and start investigating that organisation or operation.”