A rise in at-home working amid the pandemic is said to be fuelling “Zoom dysmorphia”.
Millions of office staff have been working remotely for the best part of a year, communicating with colleagues via video calls.
With England in its third lockdown and similarly strict restrictions in place for the rest of the UK, Britons have also relied on the technology to stay connected with their loved ones.
While many have described the likes of Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts as a “lifeline”, new research suggests staring at a “distorted image on screen” for up to several hours a day is causing some to develop “a negative self-perception”.
Scientists from the Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Dermatology sent a survey to more than 100 dermatologists across the US.
Results suggest there has been a 56% increase in people seeking cosmetic procedures amid the widespread uptake of video calls, with a 24-year-old patient claiming her double chin “became apparent” while using the technology.
“Not only is a person confronting their own reflection with much greater intensity and frequency than ever before, but they’re staring at a distorted reflection,” study author Dr Shadi Kourosh from Harvard told NBC News’ Today.
“So this was a way that, subconsciously, people were becoming more self-conscious about their appearance.”
A woman in her 50s had her eyelids lifted after her corporate job went virtual, telling Today video calls made her “aware” of the “ageing process she was experiencing”.
A 24-year-old beauty influencer, who had chin filler in December, added: “Something that was my biggest insecurity, which was my double chin, started becoming more apparent in video calls.”
Read more: The surprising health benefits of 2020
This is not the first time Zoom dysmorphia has been flagged.
In 2019, some of the same scientists wrote in the journal Facial Plastic Surgery & Aesthetic Medicine “a life disproportionately spent on Zoom may trigger a self-critical comparative response that leads people to rush to their physicians for treatments they may not have considered before months confronting a video screen”.
Experts have also previously spoken of so-called “Snapchat dysmorphia”.
In 2019, more than seven in 10 (72%) members of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery reported seeing patients who were seeking cosmetic procedures to improve their selfies.
Watch: Cosmetic surgery up 500% during lockdowns
Nearly two-thirds (62%) of Americans were working from home at the start of the coronavirus outbreak, with many keen to continue with the virtual office once the pandemic has passed, the Massachusetts scientists wrote in the International Journal of Women’s Dermatology.
After the scientists sent their survey to 134 dermatologists, the results revealed more than half noted a “relative increase in patients seeking cosmetic consultations now compared to prior to the pandemic”.
In addition, 86% of the dermatologists said their patients “cited video-conferencing calls as a reason to seek care”.
Four in five (80%) reported the patients were focusing on their forehead, while 78% said they were unhappy with the area around their eyes.
More specifically, 77% of the dermatologists reported patients being concerned about upper face wrinkles, while 64% noted dark eye circles, 53% complained of facial dark spots and 50% were self-conscious of neck sagging.
When asked what patients have requested the most since the pandemic began, more than nine in 10 (94%) said procedures like Botox, while over four in five (82%) flagged injectable dermal fillers.
Notably, “concerns below the neck” were “much less frequently reported”, with body contouring and cellulite treatments noted to be on the rise by less than 10% of the dermatologists surveyed.
“Our results show the trend may also be due to the fact that people are now becoming more aware of their appearance, scrutinising their features from the neck up as they see their video reflection daily,” wrote the scientists.
More than four in five (82%) of the dermatologists said their patients were either “somewhat more” or “significantly more” unhappy with their appearance since using video-conferencing during the pandemic.
The Massachusetts scientists have warned the “technological interface and front-facing cameras” of video-conferencing can “distort facial proportions, causing or worsening perception of problems in one’s own appearance”.
A 2018 study found a photograph taken from 12 inches (30cm) away increases “perceived nose size by about 30% when compared to an image taken at 5ft (1.5m)”.
The shorter focal length of a webcam can also lead to an “overall more rounded face, wider set eyes, broader nose, taller forehead and disappearing ears obscured by cheeks”.
Video calls also “condense life into a 2D image, leading a graded shadow along a curved surface such as the nose to appear as a flat, darkened area instead”, which may also exacerbate dark circles.
“This is causing concern for aspects of appearance that may not truly require correction or to the extent that the patient fears,” wrote the scientists.
A person’s increased desire to change their appearance may also be a result of depression or anxiety they could have endured during the pandemic, they added.
What you need to know before cosmetic surgery
For those considering a cosmetic procedure, the NHS stresses would-be patients must ensure their doctor is listed on the General Medical Council online register.
Some surgeons may also be on a specialist cosmetic surgery register, like the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons or the Royal College of Surgeons: Certified Cosmetic Surgeons.
These might say if a surgeon is qualified or experienced in a particular procedure.
The NHS also stresses patients should always book a consultation with a surgeon ahead of any operation, so they can ask about qualifications, complications and costs.
People should also avoid “treatment vouchers sold online on group discount or voucher sites” and “practitioners who only advertise on social media”.
Prospective patients should also check the hospital or clinic is registered with the Care Quality Commission or ask for staff to show the clinic’s certificate.
Watch: Wife of late Hugh Hefner ‘almost died’ after cosmetic surgery