Is Cosmetic Surgery Tax Deductible

I recently saw a question on Quora asking if cosmetic surgery is tax deductible. The answer to the question is almost always ‘no’, but it reminded me of an old landmark tax court case known as Hess v. Commissioner. I’d heard about it in college, but the actual case is even more interesting than the summary. And the summary is pretty good:

Stripper can deduct boob job

Here’s the backstory. In the mid-eighties, Cynthia Hess was an exotic dancer in Indiana (though not Indianapolis, so she probably didn’t work for Mr. Roberts from this fun case) who went by the stage name of “Tonda Marie.” Her agent encouraged her to super-size through cosmetic implant surgery. And at the sizes we’re talking about, I really do mean super-size. The surgery was a success in that her fees doubled. In being able to stand up straight. . .well, not so much. The newly minted “Chesty Love” toppled over and ruptured one of the implants, which led to a bacterial infection.

Ms. Hess tried again a year later with even larger implants, which again brought in more money, but led to another bacterial infection after a mere 3 weeks “out on the road.”

On the non-medical side, Ms. Hess also suffered from public humiliation and insults from people she came in contact with, and was almost totally ostracization from her family.

I’ve heard people say that it’s a man’s dream to be married to a stripper. It seems more like that one nightmare where creepy men are constantly following your wife to her car after work and treating her like property, but to each his own. Ms. Hess’ husband seemed to agree it was more like a nightmare, complaining that he suffered ridicule and insults on the streets just for walking with his wife.

Because Ms. Hess’ particular situation, she was able to deduct her cosmetic surgery as a business expense. But that was because the surgery was shown to be a condition of employment AND unsuitable in every day life. If, instead, she had gotten implants that were a more reasonable size, or gotten a standard procedure face lift, or an elective liposuction, it wouldn’t have been deductible.

If, however, the cosmetic surgery is medical in nature rather than elective, then it most likely can be included on your Schedule A Medical deduction line to the extent it’s not covered by insurance. This would include procedures such as a facial reconstruction after an accident or removal of excess skin prone to infection after serious weight loss

So is cosmetic surgery tax deductible? If it’s elective, almost never, unless you can very closely match the case mentioned above. If it’s medical. . .well, probably not then, either, because the hurtle to actually deduct medical expenses is pretty darn high.


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Featured Image by Steven Depolo