Slowly but surely, “normal” life has resumed for Kate Korson, a 31-year-old Denver woman who works in the cannabis consulting industry. For the first stop on her re-entry tour: The Luxe Room, where Korson received her regular dose of Botox from Danielle Mathers, a nurse and owner of the clinic.
Things look different inside the tasteful office, with its waiting room decorated by plush velvet couches, a shag rug, and lucite coffee table. Since reopening on May 11, Mathers’ clinic operates under restrictions set forth by the state’s Department of Public Health.
Upon arrival, clients get a temperature gun to their head and are only allowed inside if they clock in under 104 degrees. They have to wear their face mask at all times, keeping their nose and lips covered—so no lip injectables are provided just yet. There is a half-hour gap between appointments, which allows for disinfecting and cleaning.
Do not assume these protective measures might keep die-hards away. Mathers says she is fully booked through June. Out of the 150 appointments she had to reschedule during the time her clinic closed, only three clients have canceled, citing a lack of funds.
“Some people walk in and think, ‘It feels like we’re not meant to be here,’” Mathers said. “They’re just getting out of their houses. They come in and realize, should I be in here, getting treatments when COVID is still around? They’re nervous, but they ease up after a while.”
Korson believes she had the coronavirus in early March and recovered after feeling “exhausted for three full weeks.” Though her state reopened, she’s still getting her groceries delivered and limiting seeing friends only in “social distance porch sessions.” Botox, which she gets to perk up droopy eyelids, marked her first real activity outside of home.
“It’s just something I do for me,” Korson told The Daily Beast. “It was a little weird; it made me think about how lucky I am to be getting treatment for something that’s optional. I’m not in the hospital. It just made me think about how shitty it is that so many people have corona now and they can’t see and talk to their nurses.”
When the pandemic first shuttered medispas and dermatology practices across the country, Rolling Stone reported that influencers were taking matters into their own hands, self-injecting the toxin to keep their Instagram faces crease-free. Everyone seemed to know someone who heard from somebody else that there was a clinic in their city offering clandestine appointments to desperate, in-the-know clients.
Earlier this month Shawn Hubler of The New York Times detailed the return of Botox in Beverly Hills, a fitting setting for a story about people who wanted their faces glassy and unruffled even as Californians face a lockdown for most of the summer.
But in states like Colorado, Tennessee, and Texas, such orders have been lifted. So patients prepare to be seen.
“They call saying, ‘Help, I need to come in as soon as you’ve opened,’” Michelle Mowry, a nurse practitioner at the Palm Beach medical spa Wellness Jar, said. “People are used to a schedule, and it’s scary to see those wrinkles you haven’t had in a long time come back.”
Mowry has been back to work for two weeks; she considers her sterile treatment rooms safer than Publix, the local supermarket chain. “Everyone at the grocery store walks around, stands next to you, takes off their gloves and leaves them in the basket. Being in the office is healthier.”
To reduce crowding, clients wait in their cars and are called in after the previous appointment has left the waiting room. Staff lead the guests around the office, accompanying them even to the bathroom to ensure that no one wanders around the space alone.
People have been in “survival mode” for too long, Mowry thinks. Once-tedious Botox check-ups have become ritualistic.
“People are really relaxing,” she said. “They’re not trying to be on their phones at the same time. They’re in the moment, closing their eyes. I can see their shoulders relax, even if they’re getting Botox and have a needle in their forehead.”
In Los Angeles, plastic surgeon Dr. Arash Moradzadeh has dialed down the touchy-feely nature of his work. “Usually we’re like hugging and touching and a social kind of environment,” he said. “Now it has changed. We’re standing further apart, socially distant, no human contact in that way.”
That has not deterred clients from returning. “I thought there would be more hesitation,” Dr. Moradzadeh admitted. “People are driving five hours from northern California. A lot of people want to do nose jobs and eyelid surgeries now, because there is time to hide the recovery before they get back to work.”
This week Irene, a 49-year-old from Nashville, got lip filler and forehead Botox done by her dermatologist, Dr. Michael Gold. (She asked to keep her last name private.)
“How advantageous is it for when you have bruising?” she asked. “I don’t have to come up with an excuse—I’m wearing a face mask, people!”
From behind his face mask and shield, Dr. Stephen Weber is still learning how to read his patients who also come in with their own cloth coverings.
“It’s a challenge connecting with new patients who are not fully visible,” he said. “I’ve had to interview potential staff members, and I’ve found it almost impossible to hire somebody who’s wearing a mask. I can’t tell what they’re thinking, if they’re good or they’re bad.”
He worries his patients look at him and feel the same way, only seeing him as two eyes peeking from a medical barrier. “That’s the biggest challenge, and the most striking reminder that things are very different than they were a couple months ago,” Dr. Weber added.
Nashville dermatologist Dr. Gold has also pared back the exam room chitchat in favor of a streamlined, quick-as-possible process. “Most of these people [getting Botox] are returning patients, so we know them very well,” he said. “We like to sit and talk with them during appointments, but we can’t do that now. I’ll spend as much time as I need to before I inject, but when we take their mask off, we have to get to business. The mask comes off when it needs to and then it goes right back on.”
The dermatologist described a “pent-up demand”; injectable fans are swarming practices to get their Botox. He wonders if it will last.
“For the first three or four weeks, most cosmetic doctors are going to be really busy,” Dr. Gold said. “After that, we’re going to see. If you listen to the [sales reps] everything is going to be rosy in a few months. But if you have a choice between feeding your family and getting a toxin, what are you going to do?”
There are a few new laser machines Dr. Gold has wanted to purchase for use in cosmetic treatments, but the coronavirus has made him rethink those plans. “Are you going to buy a $100,000 laser or pay your staff? I plan on buying nothing for a while. We’ll utilize what we have,” he said.
Bill Kortesis, a plastic surgeon in Charlotte, North Carolina, feels “optimistic” that the demand will remain. “There’s a consensus among leaders in the space that we’re going to see a huge influx now,” he said. “The number of phone calls, emails, and social media inquiries hasn’t slowed down for me. I think since people are not spending money on summer vacations, they’ll want to spend money on themselves.”
Mandy LaMay, a 28-year-old insurance broker from Denver, considers her Botox a necessary step for easing out of lockdown and getting back to real life.
“I got my hair done yesterday,” she said. “This is my full week of self care, so if I have to jump on a Zoom call and share my screen, at least I can feel nice. I can look in the mirror and see myself looking as good as I feel. It’s important to me, my appearance. So that would make it essential.”
For the past decade, Dr. William M. Portnoy has hosted a spring Botox filler “special” in his New York practice. The event is usually held near Mother’s Day weekend; the coronavirus pushed it into mid-May.
“People look forward to it,” the otolaryngologist and facial plastic surgeon said. “I wasn’t quite sure if I was going to proceed or not just by the whole virtue of what’s going on in our community. But I decided to run with it. People were excited to get out and do something nice for themselves after 10 weeks of socially isolating.”
Irene, the patient in Nashville, was considered an essential worker during the pandemic. Despite being high-risk—she has an autoimmune disease in her liver—Irene clocked in everyday at her home remodeling job.
“My experience was one of a lot of fear and anxiety and exhaustion,” Irene said. “I was in complete emergency mode for six weeks.”
When Tennessee lifted its stay-at-home order, Irene began to feel a little more certainty that she would keep her paycheck and be able to provide for her preteen daughter.
“Now I’m at this point where I could be dead from this disease at any point,” she said. “What am I waiting for? What am I scared of?”
She wanted to return to Dr. Gold’s office after visiting for Botox about a year ago; her new confidence and a $500 gift card pushed her to make an appointment for this week.
“As soon as the mindset changed, I felt that I want aesthetics in my life,” Irene said. “I couldn’t hold onto my fear anymore.”
When the Botox needle hit Irene’s forehead, a nurse joked that the patients “get into the pain.” Irene joked back, “I feel alive!”
“It wasn’t going to hurt,” she recalled one day after Botox. “I was going to be empowered and I was going to be brave. There were a lot of emotions. This is just another addition to our new Twilight Zone reality.”