Can I Write Off Cosmetic Surgery on My Taxes?

Woman doing taxes, considering writing off her cosmetic surgery

Whether you’re a business owner, queen of side hustles, or working a traditional 9-5, we could all use a little help offsetting the day-to-day costs of working and living. As the W2s and 1099s roll in, you may be looking for ways to maximize your refund (or minimize what you owe)—and if looking great is part of your job, you may be wondering if you can write off your cosmetic surgery.

Before we delve into the details, we should get the bad news out of the way: barring very special circumstances, it’s unlikely that the IRS is going to let you deduct expenses for your breast augmentation or liposuction—even if you need to maintain a certain look for your work.

Here’s what you need to know if you work in the entertainment industry and are hoping to deduct expenses related to your personal appearance.

What are “personal appearance expenses?”

Performing artists and those in the entertainment industry routinely incur expenses related to maintaining their image, known as personal appearance expenses. Typically, these expenses include certain types of clothing, stage makeup, and certain hair and body care goods. Rules surrounding deduction of personal appearance expenses are incredibly strict, and most purchases don’t make the cut.

Makeup or clothing that can be used for business and recreation will be rejected, while items such as for-work-only specialty costumes and professional stage makeup have a higher chance of being deductible.

As a rule of the thumb, only expenses incurred for goods and services that are used only for work can be deducted. That means makeup or clothing that can be used for business and recreation will be rejected, while specialty costumes or professional-grade stage makeup may have a higher chance of being deductible.

Is cosmetic surgery a personal appearance expense that can be deducted?

Technically, cosmetic surgery falls under the category of personal appearance expenses, though it lives in somewhat of a grey area. That’s because permanent modification to your body is difficult to categorize as being solely for work—unlike a special costume, you can’t “take it off” when you clock out.

If the likelihood of being able to write off other personal appearance expenses is rare, deducting the cost of your cosmetic surgery is near impossible—despite the well-known case of Cynthia Hess (AKA “Chesty Love”), an adult entertainer who successfully claimed her breast augmentation as a business expense in the early ‘90s.

How Cynthia perpetuated the myth of deducting cosmetic surgery on your taxes (and why you probably can’t do the same)

While Hess did indeed win her case with the IRS and go on to enjoy newfound success after her procedure and subsequent notoriety, it’s important to fully understand how she was able to meet the strict criteria the government places on personal appearance expenses.

Two conditions in particular must be met for the IRS to consider your personal appearance expenses a valid business deduction:

  1. The goods, services, or personal enhancements must be required as a condition of your employment (for instance, a uniform).
  2. The goods, services, or personal enhancements must be unsuitable for everyday use.

Essentially, you have to prove that your cosmetic surgery is necessary for you to do your job and that the resulting outcome not only doesn’t benefit your everyday life but is also inappropriate for it.

As you can imagine, meeting those conditions requires an extreme form of cosmetic surgery—and Hess’s eventual size 56N bust fit the bill. As an exotic dancer, Hess claimed she experienced smaller earnings due to her smaller breast size, and her agent suggested she opt for an excessive enhancement to improve her career. While she did experience an uptick in her earnings, her success came with a cost, including daily discomfort, bacterial infections, and ridicule from the public during her off hours.

The case of Cynthia Hess is a rare exception to the tax deduction rules—and her extreme breast augmentation came with a lifetime of discomfort.

With all of these factors, it was difficult for the IRS to argue that Hess’s surgery was motivated by anything other than success at work—and the tax court judge approved the deduction and categorized her breast implants as stage props. The case of Cynthia Hess is by and large a rare exception to the rule, and her extreme breast augmentation came with a lifetime of discomfort which could never be worth the amount saved on one year’s taxes.

Make sure your motivation for surgery is healthy (and we’ll make sure you understand your financing options)

Most patients who choose to have cosmetic surgery do so to feel more confident and comfortable day-to-day, in any work, social, or other setting—and enjoying success in your career should be thought of as a cherry on top, not your primary motivator. If an employer is urging you to consider extreme body modifications that will cause turmoil in your personal life, it may be time to consider a new job.

That being said, we work with a number of Las Vegas entertainers who hope to enhance their appearance, and our primary goal is to help achieve a look you’ll love safely. Las Vegas cosmetic surgeon Dr. Pancholi is well-known for his artistry and surgical skill, particularly when it comes to breast augmentation. As a trusted cosmetic surgery authority, Dr. Pancholi stays up-to-date on the latest advancements in surgical techniques, scar-minimizing methods, and breast implant technology so he can ensure beautiful outcomes, speedy recovery, and a safe, positive experience.

Stellar results don’t come cheaply, and we understand that cosmetic surgery isn’t always in the budget. That’s why we will help you understand your payment and financing options so you can move forward confidently. Contact us today to learn more during a private consult.

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