November 21st, 2009
08:00 AM ET

50on50: A tax on a face


Michael Schulder
CNN Senior Executive Producer

Just as I'm about to turn 50, the Obama Administration and its allies in the Senate are pushing what's been dubbed Botax. A 5 percent tax on cosmetic procedures, like Botox injections and face lifts. I'm actually excited about turning 50. I'm excited about my current life mission to take down the worshipers of the 18-49 year old "demo." So I don't need a LIFT for my spirits. But many do. It's a big deal.

I'm Transparent

On a personal note, as a journalist, I don't think I could ever feel comfortable with a significant cosmetic procedure. I want to be trusted. I don't want to hide anything. Don't get me wrong. I go to work fully clothed.

But the idea of doctoring your face makes me as uncomfortable as doctoring a photo. In fact, in that photo of me at the top of this story, I had the option of having the photographer airbrush out some wrinkles. He could have worked magic with his mouse. But I said NO, after I thought about it for a while. What you see is what you get. I'm turning 50. I want to LOOK like I'm telling the truth.

The Plastic Surgeon's Perspective

Of course there's the issue of empathy. The President Elect of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, Dr. Phil Haeck, points to women who are out of work and looking for jobs . He says many of them may be at a competitive disadvantage without a plastic surgeon on their side.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/HEALTH/dailydose/11/20/botox.stroke/art.botox.gi.jpg]

"They're competing with people 10 to 15 years younger than them," he notes, "and they want to look better."

Women, please comment below on whether you agree or disagree with Dr. Haeck on this point. Your radar is stronger than mine.


We can all acknowledge, there's a fortune at stake. By one estimate, nearly 2-billion dollars was spent on Botox injections alone last year. One procedure – nearly 2 billion dollars. That's certainly a lift for a sagging economy. We don't know whether a 5 percent tax would eat into the industry. On the other hand, as our Researcher Emma Lacey-Bordeaux just wondered aloud, could it trigger a run on procedures?

In other words, get your tucks before the tax.

I'm also aware that my dermatologist could not make a living if every patient were like me. "The mole's normal. See you next year." Not a lot of profit there.

I have noticed that some dermatologist offices that did very few cosmetic procedures 25 years ago have turned into hotbeds of beauty shots. I've asked many dermatologists and have heard the same thing from all of them. It's where the money is.

"As Long As You Have Your Health .."

When it comes to appearances, I think you've got to prioritize. As my grandmother used to say, "as long as you've got your health."

In that spirit, Bubbie, were she alive, would probably endorse Sanjay Gupta's new book Cheating Death as a better way to spend your money than elective surgery.

Cheating Death includes fascinating stories about new state of the art techniques being used to save lives. For example, you can learn (as you would have if you watched Gupta's CNN documentary) that a new, simpler form of CPR that does not include mouth-to-mouth is having greater success than the old CPR that had been pounded into our minds. Just quick, rapid, chest thumping until the EMTs arrive is the key.

Rather than get an injection, I'm considering buying copies of Dr. Gupta's book for everyone who might have a chance of being near me in the event I have a heart attack so that they know the best way to keep me alive until the pros arrive.

The Danger Of Looking Too Good

Eliminating wrinkles, making your face look younger, your jaw look stronger, your stomach look trimmer, your eyes look rested . it's tempting, but could it be dangerous to look TOO good. These procedures could disguise evidence of your underlying health problems.

"Guess who died today?"


"Michael Schulder."

"Michael!? He looked so good!"

"Still does."

I'm not ready to go down. Not unless I can take the 18-49 demo with me.

Competing Values

I can't take a position in support or opposition to a Botax. I can tell you the argument for a tax is that it could help defray the expense of guaranteeing health care to the millions of uninsured Americans. The argument against it is that it might get in the way of an industry that provides a lift to our sagging economy, and make some procedures cost prohibitive for people of modest means.

You could also view this whole debate as a question of competing values.

What do we Americans value more? Tight budgets or tight faces.

Filed under: Michael Schulder • Opinion
soundoff (One Response)
  1. Tim Gibson

    I am going to hang with the tight budget on this one.

    November 21, 2009 at 8:57 am |