In better economic times, some in search of youth and beauty thought nothing of plunking down thousands of dollars for a cosmetic procedure.

These days, tummy tucks are on sale.

What's more, recent figures from the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery say the number of cosmetic procedures in the U.S. - such as eyelid lifts and liposuction - fell 17% from 2008 to 2009.

"It's the economy. People don't have the disposable income," said Dr. Darryl Blinski, a Miami plastic surgeon. He has cut the price of a tummy tuck from $8,000 to $6,000; saline breast augmentation from $5,500 to $3,800.

Doctors say people still want to look better. They're just trying to do it on the cheap.

Many face a double whammy. They can't afford plastic surgery in today's economy, but they feel even greater pressure to look fit and youthful to compete in a tight job market.

So they're opting for what doctors call "tide you over" procedures.

Doctors say customers ages 30 to 50 are putting off $6,000 face-lifts and opting for $400 Botox injections.

"A lot of people say they want to come back for surgery after the economy turns around," Miami plastic surgeon Dr. Thomas Zaydon Jr. said. "Right now, they want methods that will let them go out and keep interviewing."

In fact, last year's 17% drop was in expensive plastic surgeries such as face-lifts.

Less-expensive nonsurgical cosmetic procedures such as chemical peels and fat injections were actually up a bit.

From 1997 to 2008, cosmetic procedures soared fourfold.

During the boom, Blinski said, people paid for four-figure cosmetic operations with credit cards or by refinancing their houses. But credit has tightened, and companies that specialize in financing cosmetic surgery are rationing credit.

Even some patients who can afford plastic surgery are holding off because they don't dare take time off work for fear of losing their jobs, Zaydon said.

"People feel guilty if they take vacation time," he said. "It can take two weeks or more to get back to work after a face-lift."

They can go back the next day after Botox injections to smooth frown lines.

For similar reasons, some men are putting off $5,000 hair transplants for $49.95 bottles of Rogaine. Hair transplants dropped nearly 2% from 2006 to 2008, according to the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery.

But hair is still important to men, said Dr. Bernard Nusbaum, a Coral Gables, Fla., transplant surgeon.

"Especially in this job market, a youthful appearance is important. People want to be more competitive."

One noneconomic reason that cosmetic procedures are down might be the dwindling of plastic-surgery-themed TV shows. Reality shows "Extreme Makeover," "The Swan" and "Miami Slice" have all been off the air for several years, and the final episode of the F/X drama "Nip/Tuck" aired this month.

Did the shows encourage people to get plastic surgery?

"They absolutely did," Blinski said. "They gave people an idea of what goes on in surgery. They made it look not as bad as they had thought."

Tasker writes for the Miami Herald / McClatchy.