One of the most common questions on the Internet is, “How much is Botox?” Inevitably they google it up, and get told, “it depends” – totally unhelpful. We’re also going to tell you, “it depends” but we’ll also tell you how you can get a better answer and the why of how prices are set.
I Just Want a Number!
Everyone will tell you something along the lines of “it depends” because that’s simply the way it is. The price tag of cosmetic procedures varies because there are many factors at play in calculating the final cost. 95% of the time though, patients want a ballpark idea of what they’re in for, so we can give you a starting point: Go to Realself.com’s reviews. You can search most procedures here, and get a good idea of how much it’s going to set you back (no, we have no relationship whatsoever to this website).
We live in the days of Yelp and Metacritic. We hardly do anything without checking reviews first, and why should you? Here are some important things to keep in mind, however:
- Your mileage will most definitely vary – often quite widely in both quality and price. A cosmetic procedure is not like a movie ticket or a restaurant.
- Understand the full cost of the procedure – Don’t just look at the unit cost. Many cosmetic procedures require multiple treatments such as laser hair removal, and Kybella, and many procedures only last for a few months at which point you will require re-treatment (like Botox and fillers).
- Don’t dismiss the 1-star and the 5-star reviews – It’s quite common to dismiss the 1 and 5-star reviews as “outliers” or “biased” opinions when it comes to reviewing websites. It’s important to remember that the consequences are bigger than a subpar lunch, and the “extreme ends” are real possibilities. Different people have different outcomes.
How to Start Your Research
You’re paying good money, almost certainly out of your pocket.1 Given that it is your looks and your money (a fair sum too) that are on the line, it’s worth investing some of your time to do some initial research.
- Have specific goals and be clear on what you want to achieve. “I want to look better/younger” is a non-starter, since you can’t act on it in a useful way.
- Once you have a more specific goal (reduce wrinkles, reduce fat from the chin), learn what your options are. Many concerns have several treatment options with varying costs and risks.
- Learn the facts about your concern – some problems are easier to fix than others. Are procedures really what you need or want? Are they an option for you?2 You can find a lot of the information online.
- Once you have some baseline knowledge, visit an office that offers cosmetic procedures. Ask specific questions that you have. Here is where your prior research helps – the more you know, the better your questions.
Cosmetic procedures were, until not that long ago, an option only for a very exclusive club of the wealthy and vain – mostly professionals whose appearance is tied directly to their careers. Prices were prohibitively high, and so were the relative risks (compared to rewards). Today, prices have become affordable, and the risk/reward ratio is much better, allowing average people to be able to consider cosmetic procedures. Unlike Hollywood stars though, money is a factor for most of us, and research can help you understand how it works.
Once you have a general idea of what the “average or typical” price is, there’s still work to do. The price of common cosmetic procedures can seem arbitrary. They vary a lot, depending on the particular procedure(s), patient, surgeon, and location. This is why most websites give you a vague “it depends” type of answer. Even the review website averages may be far off from what your cosmetic surgeon or dermatologist tells you. Many of the economic factors may not make perfect sense; they don’t necessarily follow the standard economic model of supply and demand.3
Here are some of the common factors to take into consideration:
- Your specific needs: Let’s say you are considering Botox to treat wrinkles on your forehead. 60-year-old Julie might have deep lines that require a lot of Botox compared to Jane who merely wants a minor touch-up. Even if the procedure is the same, the costs will vary considerably.
- Location: Clinics that offer cosmetic procedures are concentrated in populous cities, but rent prices and the labor market vary considerably from city to city.
- Physician: Each physician has his or her reputation, priorities, and bills to pay. Some physicians or clinics charge more than others for various reasons. Expensive does not necessarily mean higher quality. You will have to do your research.
- Other Factors: A “boutique” looking clinic that is entirely focused on cosmetic procedures will likely charge more than one that is primarily focused on medical dermatology.
Meet the Surgeon
While anyone can jump here as step 1, it helps to do your initial research online. The good news is that most clinics understand the common questions and concerns that you might have. With cosmetic procedures, you are the customer; you have every right to pick and choose and to ask questions until you are satisfied. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- The better your questions, the better your answers. It’s hard, even for an expert to answer poorly defined questions (what do I need to look prettier?)
- Meet the performing surgeon in person to get a feel; communication between patient and surgeon is critical, and you need to mesh.
- Have the surgeon show you examples of past cases; these will be “model cases” obviously, but it will give you an idea of their aesthetic sense. It’s your beauty and confidence that the surgeon has in their hand.
- Tighten up loose ends. Don’t leave confused about the details – what happens if something goes wrong? Who pays? What are the risks/rewards? What is the typical outcome? You want an idea of the true risk-adjusted cost.
Finally, if it’s your first time with a cosmetic procedure, it’s likely a big decision, even if it’s a quick filler injection. Give yourself some time and space to think about the decision first. A rushed decision is very often a poor decision.
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1With few exceptions (like reconstruction surgery after an accident or something of that sort), insurance will not cover cosmetic procedures as they are viewed as elective.
2Some options like cosmetic surgery have requirements like being a non-smoker or quitting smoking (for safety as these increase your risk factor).