Cosmetic surgery

Introduction

Cosmetic or aesthetic surgery is a type of surgery usedto change a person’s appearance to achieve what they perceive to be a more desirable look.

In certain situations cosmetic surgery may be needed for functional reasons. For example, breast reduction is sometimes used to alleviate back or neck pain.

Cosmetic surgery is different to reconstructive plastic surgery, which is a type of surgery used to repair damaged tissue following injury or illness.

How common are cosmetic procedures?

In recent years, cosmetic surgery has become very popular. It's estimated that over 120,000 surgical procedures were performed in the UK during 2011. About 9 in every 10 cosmetic surgery procedures are carried out in women.

Non-surgical cosmetic treatments, such as Botox, are even more popular than surgical procedures, accounting for over 90% of all cosmetic procedures.

Considering cosmetic surgery

Having cosmetic surgery is a major decision. It can be expensive, time consuming and the results can't be guaranteed.

Sometimes, people feel that having cosmetic surgery will help to solve a problem in their life and will make their life better. 

It's important to ask yourself why you want to have cosmetic surgery. It's a good idea to discuss your plans with your GP before going ahead with treatment. If you decide to have surgery, be absolutely sure about your reasons for wanting to have it.

Can I get cosmetic surgery on the NHS?

Cosmetic surgery is rarely available through the NHS. There must be a major physical or psychological reason for needing the surgery.  

In rare cases, a clinical commissioning group (CCG) may decide that cosmetic surgery is required to improve a person's health, although NHS resources are limited and waiting times are usually long. For this reason, most people pay to have cosmetic surgery privately.

Read more about the availability of cosmetic surgery.

Choosing a surgeon

If you decide to have cosmetic surgery, it's important that the surgeon and other healthcare professionals carrying out the procedure are fully qualified and experienced in the type of procedure you're having.

You should discuss the procedure in detail with your surgeon. Ask as many questions as you need to so that you're fully aware of what the procedure involves, how it will be carried out, what the results will be and whether there will be any after effects.

Surgical procedures

There are many different types of cosmetic surgery procedure. Some of the most common include:

  • breast augmentation – surgery to increase breast size using breast implants
  • breast reduction (male and female) – surgery to reduce the weight and volume of the breasts
  • eyelid surgery (blepharoplasty) – surgery to remove excess skin from the upper and lower eyelids to get rid of hooded eyelids or eye bags
  • liposuction – surgery to remove unwanted body fat
  • ear reshaping (otoplasty or pinnaplasty) – surgery to treat protruding ears

Read more about common cosmetic surgery procedures.

Non-surgical procedures

A popular alternative to cosmetic surgery are non-surgical cosmetic procedures. These can change a person’s appearance using things like injections and lasers.

Common non-surgical procedures include:

  • botulinum toxin injections – such as Botox, to help relax facial muscles and make lines and wrinkles less obvious
  • dermal fillers – injected into wrinkles or creases to fill them out
  • chemical peels – which use chemicals to remove the outer layer of skin cells
  • microdermabrasion – which uses fine crystals and a vacuum to remove dead skin cells
  • laser and intense light treatments – such as hair removal

However, there is little regulation of these procedures and many don't require the person performing them to have any medical qualifications.

Making a complaint

As with all types of surgery, cosmetic surgery can sometimes go wrong and the results may not be what you expected.

If you've had cosmetic surgery and you're not happy with the results, or you think that the procedure wasn't carried out properly, take up the matter with your surgeon through the hospital or clinic that referred you. 

Last updated: 29 July 2014

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