Are you considering cosmetic surgery? Does a loved one want a cosmetic surgical procedure? This article dispels some common myths about cosmetic surgery. Although more and more Australians are opting for cosmetic surgery, a few persistent myths still float around. We’ll look at some to understand why they are just myths, not reality.

Myth 01: Cosmetic surgery is only for the super rich.

Fact: People choose cosmetic surgery regardless of their income bracket.

Not to confuse money with celebrity, but we hear a lot about celebrity cosmetic surgery because it makes for exciting news, at least in the minds of some media institutions. After all, who, other than you, your family and your close friends will get excited about your mummy makeover or facelift? But when Nicole Kidman has the same cosmetic procedure, that is big news. For every thousand Australians who have cosmetic surgery, a handful of celebrities and their cosmetic procedures make it into the headlines.

Talking to surgeons can dispel the myth about cosmetic surgery being just for the celebrity crowd or the super rich. Most will say that their patients are regular people who place value on their appearance. Many of these cosmetic surgery recipients have saved up and waited to be able to have the procedures they want.

According to the website of the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (AAAPS), an ASAPS survey found that over half—51 percent—of Americans approved of cosmetic surgery, regardless of their income. A recent study showed that 23 percent of Americans would have surgery if costs were not an issue.

The idea that cosmetic surgery is for the rich and the famous is nothing but a myth.

Myth 02: Cosmetic surgery is unsafe.

Facts: Nothing we do in life is completely risk-free. That applies to drinking water, crossing the road, taking a walk or sitting in the sun. In the same way, every medically necessary surgery and every elective cosmetic surgery has its inherent risks and complications.

Risks involved in cosmetic surgery have multiple facets with different origins. Some of these can be averted, and others can be managed or minimised. Some cannot be predicted.

Surgical risks: Part of the risk you face during surgery has to do with the surgery itself.

Anaesthetics: There is also an element of risk in the use of anaesthetics and your body’s reaction to them. As the type of anaesthetic used depends on the procedure as well as many other factors, you need to know the specifics before you can understand the risks.

Types of Anaesthesia for Cosmetic Surgery, parts 1 and 2 will help you better understand anaesthetics and their use in cosmetic surgery.

The third aspect is the individual factor: Each individual brings a different risk profile into the operating theatre. Your risk profile has to do with genetic factors, your medical history, lifestyle choices and many other factors. Some risks you face during cosmetic surgery are known—such as allergies to certain medications. But there are unknown factors, such as how you heal after major surgery, especially if you have not undergone surgery before. Some genetic factors you don’t know about could make you vulnerable during surgery. Medical conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes can put you in a higher risk category. Certain medications can make you more vulnerable to risk during and after cosmetic surgery. Lifestyle choices like smoking, alcohol consumption and drug use can elevate your levels of risk during surgery as well as in the recovery period.

Being open and honest with your surgeon about potential risk factors will help him or her manage and minimise your levels of risk during and after surgery.

Risks, complications and informed consent: The risks and complications associated with the more popular cosmetic procedures are known and published in peer-reviewed journals. Please refer to the Procedures section of this website to find details of risks and complications specific to each cosmetic procedure.

Australian medical professionals, including cosmetic and plastic surgeons, are required to obtain informed consent from you before any cosmetic procedure. As part of the informed consent process, they should discuss with you not just the benefits and expectations of surgery, but also what potential risks and complications may arise out of the procedure. You can read more about this process in our article on Informed Consent.

How safe are common cosmetic procedures? Many common and popular cosmetic procedures, such as liposuction, rhinoplasty, tummy tucks, breast augmentation, facelifts and eyelid surgery have been performed hundreds of thousands of times in the past 50 years. Their risks and complications are known, and many methods and means have been developed to address key issues arising from them. You can read about the details of risks and complications specific to each cosmetic procedure in the Procedures section of this website.

A study published in the January 2012 issue of the Dermatologic Clinics journal found that some popular cosmetic procedures are both safe and effective when performed by qualified individuals.[1] The study, conducted by researchers at the Northwestern University (NU) Feinberg School of Medicine, analysed 98 studies on cosmetic procedures. Their sample included some of the currently most popular, such as liposuction, anti-wrinkle injections and laser treatments for broken blood vessels, brown spots, port wine stains, rosacea and hair removal. Research showed that these procedures could deliver scientifically confirmed results.

Although the researchers concluded the study by saying “Overall, cosmetic dermatologic procedures are extremely safe,” they qualified that statement, saying “detailed information about safety and effectiveness, and especially comparative effectiveness, is not available for many procedures.”

According to surgery.org, the official website of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), procedures with less scientific evidence behind them include “the use of infrared light or ultrasound devices to shrink and tighten the skin, the use of low-level laser light for fat removal and fat ‘melting’ by super cooling the fat cells”. According to the ASAPS these procedures are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the data shows that they work and are safe short term. Because these procedures are relatively new, there is little evidence to their safety and efficacy in the long term.

That said, it is vital to remember that even the safest of procedures can be botched in the hands of an unqualified, inexperienced surgeon, doctor or technician. Avoiding such service providers can go a long way towards assuming responsibility for your own safety.

The risks and complications that can arise during cosmetic surgery can be managed or minimised by well-trained experienced surgeons. If a highly qualified and experienced surgeon declines to operate on you, you are safer staying away from that procedure than going to a less scrupulous surgeon who finds no issue with performing the surgery. In such cases, your safety rests to a large degree in your own discretion.

[1] Alam M, Olson JM, Asgari MM. Needs assessment for cosmetic dermatologic surgery. Dermatol Clin. 2012 Jan;30(1):177-87, x. doi: 10.1016/j.det.2011.08.009. Epub 2011 Oct 21.

Myth 03: All surgeons will produce the same results.

Fact: No. That is a terrible myth that can be a matter of life and death. It is a ridiculous notion to begin with: Not all cricketers play the same. Neither do all chefs cook in the same manner. So why expect all surgeons to produce equally good results?

The conclusion of the researchers who studied the safety and effectiveness of common cosmetic procedures carries a qualifier: safe and effective when performed by qualified individuals.

A surgeon’s qualifications and training contribute immeasurably to the success of any surgery, including cosmetic surgery. You significantly reduce risks and complications by choosing a qualified and experienced surgeon who has performed similar procedures many times. It matters how many procedures they perform in a month or a year, so look for a surgeon who has mastered a particular specialty, rather than someone who is a jack-of-all-trades. Experience matters when it comes to finer points. And in the final analysis, cosmetic surgery is all about the finer points.

Unfortunately for the person seeking cosmetic surgery, Australian laws still allow any medical professional to perform cosmetic surgery, regardless of surgical training and experience. This makes it even more critical to know the experience and expertise of the surgeon you choose. We recommend checking out our article, Do Your Homework, before selecting a surgeon.

Some people opt for less qualified surgeons and medical service providers because of the cost factor. The cost of any procedure may be less with a less qualified and experienced doctor. The same applies for an anaesthetist. But is that whom you really want operating on your face and body?

You can read more about costs of cosmetic surgery and how they differ among surgeons, in our Costs of cosmetic surgery series: Liposuction | breast augmentation | rhinoplasty| eyelid surgery (blepharoplasty) | facelift

Next time you hear these cosmetic surgery myths being thrown around, please share this information.

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