BEIRUT: The face mask, used as a measure against the spread of COVID-19, has forced Lebanese women to change their beauty and make-up habits.
The array of cosmetics that were usually worn have been stripped back to merely mascara because socializing is out and social distancing is in.
But the beauty regimes of Lebanese women have been affected by the country’s financial crisis as much as the global health crisis.
Lebanon’s cosmetic and plastic surgery sectors, which are leaders in the Middle East region, are also feeling the pinch.
Dr. Elie Abdel Hak, who is head of the Lebanese Society of Plastic, Reconstructive, and Aesthetic Surgery, said the sector had experienced a decline.
“Reconstructive surgeries make up no more than 4 percent of our work, while the largest percentage is for cosmetic surgeries for women looking for perfection,” he told Arab News.
Medical centers and cosmetic doctors are scattered across Lebanon and are not confined to Beirut. Specialisms include plastic surgery, non-surgical plastic surgery and reconstructive surgery.
The internet is loaded with addresses of beauty centers in Lebanon offering packages for cosmetic surgery with accommodation, even tourism and entertainment programs.
“There are 104 plastic surgeons in Lebanon, 50 percent of whom have branches outside Lebanon, specifically in Gulf countries,” said Abdel Hak. No doctors had quit Lebanon, he added, they were just moving between home and their clinics abroad. “This helps them continue to pump fresh money into their work in Lebanon.”
Plastic surgery in Lebanon is still priced in US dollars, just as they were before the collapse of the national currency. While other medical disciplines have reduced their profit rates to keep up with people’s living conditions, some cosmetic doctors are still charging their clients in dollars.
“Pharmacies do not sell botox injections or filler substances, there are intermediaries between the importer and the doctor,” said pharmacist Samer Sobra, who owns a business on upscale Verdun Street.
He noted an ease in demand for the creams used after filler injections. They were being imported in smaller quantities than usual as they were excluded from state support.
“This means that these small cosmetic touches that take place in medical clinics have receded. The price of some post-botox or filler creams have risen from LBP6,000 ($4) to LBP60,000 due to the collapse of the national currency. Some creams that used to cost LBP300,000, are now priced at more than LBP1 million.”
Some women who had not been affected by the financial situation were following their doctors abroad for cosmetic procedures, according to Sobra.
The price of a nose job in Lebanon ranges from $2,000 to $3,000, while liposuction ranges from $2,500 to $4,000 and the cost of a tummy tuck ranges between $3,000 and $8,000.
Abdel Hak said that, nowadays, his customers first asked him what the dollar rate was. “My answer is always that I am not a money changer. If you want to buy dollars, there is one on the ground floor.”
Lebanon’s currency reached a new low against the dollar on the black market, hitting LBP15,000.
Its fall has led to soaring prices. A nose job now costs LBP25 million, a sum that many people cannot secure unless they are paid in dollars.
Women often used to resort to bank loans for plastic surgery when the dollar exchange rate was only LBP1,505, with some banks even making attractive offers in recent years for such loans.
Alice Abdul Karim Samaha, a drug distributor for import companies, said the demand for cosmetic medical supplies had been relatively low due to high prices and the migration of doctors.
“The price of a needle of filler is $250. Some cosmetic doctors reduced their prices, deciding to sell a filler needle for LBP2 million, instead of LBP3 million, and LBP125,000 according to the black market price. The doctors decided to reduce their profits so that they don’t lose customers.”
Samaha said it was “very expensive” now for a woman to appear attractive and beautiful. “This is no longer limited to the cost of plastic surgery, but also the prices of hair dyes and nail polish have become extortionate.”
But Abdel Hak believed that women would never stop searching for ways to improve their beauty.
“Women during the lockdown were depressed. The more they look in the mirror, the gloomier they are. Resorting to aesthetic corrections helps lift their spirits. The cheapest and the most sought-after option now is botox injections. Our profession has been affected by the economic crisis. When a person has a headache, he goes to the doctor, but botox is not a medical necessity and in this sense our work has declined but not stopped. Our career will go through a period of stagnation in the medium term, but will recover later because women are demanding and the face mask does not prevent them from beautifying themselves.”
He said that plastic surgeons and doctors were currently “living on their laurels” with their savings held in banks. They were waiting for developments to make a decision - and leaving Lebanon may be one of these decisions.
But he stressed that Beirut would remain the best medical hub in the region because of its scientific history, diverse culture and high levels of experience.
The sector used to attract clients from across Europe and nowhere could replace Lebanon, he said.
“In light of the crisis, Arab women are still coming to us. Money provides advanced technologies but does not provide expertise. Turkey tried and did not continue.”