The public perception of cosmetic procedures have changed considerably over the last few decades. These are no longer the exclusive domain of Hollywood Stars, or the otherwise excessively vain and wealthy. There are still many aspects of cosmetic treatments that remain a mystery for the average Jane and Joe, and with the help of Dr. Shannon Humphrey and Dr. Bryce Cowan, we hope to unravel some secrets.
First, what is a cosmetic procedure?
A cosmetic procedure is a very general term and varies widely from procedure to procedure. A light facial or microdermabrasion at your beauty spa is technically a cosmetic procedure. On the other end of the spectrum are surgical procedures that involve anesthetic, scarring, and months of recovery time that can start in the thousands of dollars. This article will focus on soft (non-surgical) cosmetic procedures performed by a cosmetic dermatologist, and cosmetic surgeries performed by a plastic surgeon.
Soft Procedures vs Cosmetic Surgeries
Not all cosmetic procedures are created equal. Every procedure is unique, has very specific goals, different expected results, recovery time, and costs. It’s impossible to compare one procedure to another, but in broad strokes, we can separate procedures into soft (non-surgical) procedures and cosmetic surgeries.
Cosmetic surgeries are what many people think of when they think of cosmetic procedures: Surgical interventions. The stereotype is the “shocking image” click-bait often employed on YouTube thumbnails as well as other website pop-up ads of botched procedures.
There’s a wide range of cosmetic surgical procedures from liposuction, facelifts, to breast enhancements. These surgical procedures can be thought of as high risk/high reward. They have the greatest and most visible and long-lasting impact on appearance, but the costs are also high, as are the potential risks and recovery time. It’s important to note, however, that many of the stereotypes of these procedures are the worst case scenarios, and then they are still exaggerated or sensationalized.
Soft procedures, on the other hand, are non-surgical procedures that enhance a person’s appearance in more soft subtle ways. In the last decade, these procedures have become far more popular and have overtaken the surgical procedures due to its greater accessibility, lower costs, risks, recovery time, and a “softer” or more natural or subtle change which many people desire more. Typically these procedures include Botox (neuromodulator injections), fillers, and laser or energy based treatments that help reduce or hide wrinkles or add a bit of volume, or treat redness, hyperpigmentation, again, often in more subtle ways, and these procedures often require little or no downtime.
Knowing what you want
Clarity of intention is often what it comes down to. Some people are perfectly fine with their appearance, some are unsatisfied with one or two specific things, and others may want a more youthful appearance in general. Different people also have different views on what they find as an acceptable risk. The same could be said of costs, recovery time, as well as their own personal views on cosmetic procedures. Being clear about what you want is the most important first step. Do you want subtle or dramatic changes? Do you want reversible non-permanent changes in case you don’t like the final outcome or do you want the changes to last a decade or more? Would you prefer to maintain your appearance or change your current appearance in a more visible way? Are you willing to accept some of the risks or requirements of undergoing cosmetic surgery (such as quitting smoking)?
Age and Symptoms
Generally speaking, soft procedures are designed to treat relatively minor concerns such as subtle loss of volume, fine lines, and wrinkles that are not deeply etched, or pigmentation problems. These procedures often result in a subtle, soft, and natural looking improvement, and have very little or no downtime. Typically these soft procedures start at several hundred dollars and have become very popular among younger people (25-40). The changes with most soft procedures (such as with injectable fillers and Botox) are temporary for the most part, typically lasting from 6-12 months depending on the specific indication.
Again, generally speaking, cosmetic surgeries produce a more permanent or long-lasting and dramatic change in appearance and are associated with higher costs, greater risks associated with going under a knife, longer recovery time, and a greater commitment on the part of the patient. Typically these procedures are more effective for older patients who are seeking a more dramatic and longer lasting improvement. Aging in a person’s late 20s to late 30s is quite different in substance from aging-related changes in a person’s 40s and early 50s not just in degrees but in substance. As the facial support structures change, the position of the fat pads changes, creating an “aged look” that at some stage, can no longer be addressed by fillers or Botox alone. In some cases, surgical procedures can become more cost-effective in the long-term as larger and larger volumes of fillers or Botox products which only last for 6-12 months may be required periodically to maintain the same appearance.
The Decisions should be Yours
One of the most important things to remember is that with cosmetic procedures, the focus should be on you and how you feel. These are 100% elective procedures. With some notable exceptions, these procedures are not covered by standard insurance and are entirely voluntary.
It’s very important that the patient understands all aspects of the procedure (expected improvements, typical outcome, recovery, cost, risks). There are always various motivations to undergo procedures such as social norms, careers, significant others, pressure from peers, and these are all very complex and intertwined, but it’s really important that in the final analysis, the primary motivation comes from you the patient and not an external source. You, as the patient, are choosing to pay the costs, undergo the risks, and so it’s imperative that you are truly comfortable with all these factors. Similarly, you would do well to avoid a practitioner who gives you a hard sell or engages in high-pressure tactics to sell a procedure; these are important and very personal decisions, and the desire should come from within.