Unmasking truth from myth: Debunking common misconceptions about plastic surgery
While the world has come a long way in understanding and accepting plastic surgery, misconceptions still linger. From its affordability to its scope and results, misinformation continues to stigmatize the field of plastic surgery.
Guided by insights from ASPS past President Alan Matarasso MD, FACS, we aim to debunk these misconceptions and present a more truthful image of what plastic surgery entails.
Myth 1: Plastic surgery always leads to an unnatural look
Among the most prevalent myths about plastic surgery, the belief that all procedures invariably result in an unnatural appearance is both rampant and deeply ingrained. This misconception got its roots from a limited number of extreme cases featured in the media that dominated the average individual's perception of plastic surgery.
The widespread exposure of these dramatic, often shocking transformations creates a distorted image of the field, perpetuating the idea that all plastic surgery leads to overblown, inauthentic aesthetics.
However, plastic surgery procedures can deliver natural-looking outcomes. This stark contrast between perception and reality underscores the importance of understanding the nuances and sophistication of modern surgical methods. The artistry and skill of the surgeon play a pivotal role in ensuring the desired outcome aligns with the patient's natural features, promoting a harmonious balance rather than an exaggerated alteration.
"Facial surgery or breast surgery often becomes unnatural-looking due to over-enhancement, like overly large breasts or radical facial changes in later ages," said Matarasso. "The secret to natural-looking results lies in early intervention and appropriate techniques."
He further emphasized that advancements in surgical techniques have refined the process to a point where a natural look is not only achievable but often expected. These refined techniques, combined with timely intervention, can lead to seamless results that enhance the patient's existing features rather than creating a drastic departure from how they looked originally.
Myth 2: Plastic surgery is only for the wealthy
Another pervasive misconception is the notion that plastic surgery is exclusively the province of the wealthy, reserved solely for those with endless cash to spare. However, this belief couldn't be further from the truth. The accessibility and inclusivity of cosmetic medical procedures have improved greatly over the last decade, challenging the stereotype that plastic surgery is a luxury for the well-to-do.
Across the globe, many clinics have embraced a more democratic approach, striving to offer plastic surgery services that are affordable to a broader range of individuals, irrespective of their economic standing.
Moreover, the financial structures supporting plastic surgery have evolved to become more accommodating, offering financing options to potential patients. Flexible payment plans are designed to make procedures more attainable, enabling individuals to pay for them in manageable installments, thus lessening the intimidation of upfront costs.
Additionally, the emergence of cosmetic insurance has further democratized the process, mitigating the risks associated with surgical complications and providing coverage for procedures that were previously considered purely elective and hence, not covered by traditional health insurance.
"There's often something for everybody," said Matarasso.
Matarasso also highlighted the misconception that plastic surgeons cater exclusively to billionaires, saying that this is nothing more than an entrenched myth. The reality is these medical professionals rely on a constant influx of new patients for their practice to thrive, which creates a need in the field for a diverse demographic range.
The doors to the world of cosmetic enhancements are not closed to those without a billionaire's bank balance; rather, they are open wide, inviting people from all walks of life to explore the possibilities of aesthetic transformation.
Myth 3: Plastic surgery is exclusively cosmetic
In the realm of medical procedures, one of the most enduring misconceptions is the idea that plastic surgery is exclusively cosmetic in nature. A substantial portion of the public tends to associate plastic surgery with beautification processes, effectively overlooking the profoundly important reconstructive aspect it encompasses.
"If you went up to a person on the street, they would think plastic surgery is facelifts, nose jobs and liposuction, and it's not," said Mataraso. "That's just one small part of what plastic surgery is."
Matarasso reveals an often-underappreciated facet of the profession – that many plastic surgeons exclusively focus their practices on reconstructive procedures. This is a key point that underscores the multifaceted nature of the field, highlighting its deep roots in compassionate patient care and life-altering interventions rather than simply cosmetic alterations.
These reconstructive procedures involve intricate and delicate surgeries aimed at restoring the form and function of different parts of the body. One such application of reconstructive plastic surgery involves treating children with congenital defects. This can include correcting a cleft lip or palate, along with craniofacial abnormalities or other birth-related anomalies. Through these procedures, plastic surgeons can drastically improve the quality of life for these children, impacting their self-esteem, speech and overall social interactions.
Microsurgery, another domain of plastic surgery, showcases the skillful precision of the practice. Here, plastic surgeons use advanced techniques to reconnect tiny, severed blood vessels or nerves, transplant tissues from one part of the body to another or even reattach severed limbs. This highlights the profound medical necessity of plastic surgery and showcases its fundamental role in restoring normal body functions.
The field of breast reconstruction further emphasizes the crucial role of plastic surgery in breast cancer patient care. This specialty focuses on rebuilding the breast tissue following a mastectomy, thus helping to restore the patient's body image and confidence, which can greatly contribute to their overall healing process.
Myth 4: Results are permanent
A widely held belief concerning the realm of plastic surgery is the myth that the results of such procedures are permanent, making one completely resistant to the natural effects of aging and external factors derived from lifestyle. This idea, while appealing, is far from reality.
While it's true that plastic surgery can often produce results that last for an impressive duration of time, it's crucial to note that it does not provide an eternal shield against the inevitable processes of aging, nor does it guard against the implications of various lifestyle choices.
Deteriorative influences like sun damage and tobacco use, for instance, can greatly impact the longevity of the results achieved through plastic surgery. The harmful UV radiation in sunlight can cause premature aging of the skin, undermining the outcomes of aesthetic procedures. Similarly, the habitual use of tobacco products can significantly accelerate skin aging and impair wound healing, potentially compromising the results of a surgical procedure.
"Depending upon the operation, the longevity of the results varies," said Matarasso. "Lifelong maintenance, coupled with the right procedure at the right age, determines if or when you may want to do it again."
Myth 5: Plastic surgery is only for women
It's time to debunk a long-standing myth in the realm of aesthetics – that plastic surgery is an option exclusively meant for women. This misconception has its roots in traditional stereotypes and biased depictions of beauty norms in the media. However, the reality of today's cosmetic surgery landscape has evolved significantly, reflecting broader shifts in societal acceptance and changes in perceptions about personal grooming, self-care and the role of aesthetics in both men's and women's lives.
More men are now exploring the possibilities of plastic surgery, both invasive and noninvasive cosmetic procedures, driven in part by greater exposure through social media. Platforms like Instagram and Twitter serve as conduits for information, dispelling misconceptions and fostering a more comprehensive understanding of these procedures. This digital exposure has helped to demystify cosmetic procedures, increasing their appeal among male demographics who previously might not have considered them.
"Men probably represent at least 20 to 25% of a typical aesthetic surgeon's practice," said Matarasso. This statistic, while seemingly modest, is indicative of a significant shift from the past when male clients were much less common.
The range of procedures men opt for is diverse, extending across various age demographics. For example, rhinoplasty, colloquially known as a 'nose job,' is increasingly common among teenagers seeking to boost their confidence through minor aesthetic modifications. This procedure can help to rectify abnormalities, enhance facial symmetry or simply adjust the nose shape to the patient's preference.
Moving up the age bracket, middle-aged men show a marked interest in procedures like liposuction and eyelid surgeries. Liposuction, a technique that removes excess fat deposits in certain body areas, can offer men a more defined and contoured physique, often appealing to those striving for an athletic appearance. Eyelid surgery, also known as blepharoplasty, is sought after by men looking to maintain a youthful, energized appearance by addressing sagging eyelids or under-eye bags, common signs of aging.
Myth 6: All plastic surgeons can perform all types of procedures
A common but misguided belief about plastic surgery is that all plastic surgeons are equipped to perform every type of procedure. This assumption is not only inaccurate, but it can also potentially lead to complications if a patient chooses a surgeon who lacks expertise in the required procedure.
The reality is that many plastic surgeons choose to specialize in certain procedures or areas of the body after undergoing rigorous, extensive training. These specializations allow them to hone their skills and knowledge, leading to better patient outcomes.
"There's an old saying in medicine that you're only as good as your training," said Matarasso.
This aphorism underlines the significance of specialized training in the medical profession. It speaks to the fact that even with a general understanding and skill set in medicine, a surgeon's capabilities are largely defined by the depth and breadth of their specific training.
Such specialization in plastic surgery is often the result of rigorous training programs, stringent examinations and a consistent demonstration of skills over time. This training exceeds the minimum requirements for becoming a plastic surgeon, often involving many years of dedicated study and practice.
As a result, surgeons who specialize are typically extremely proficient in their areas of focus. This proficiency not only increases the likelihood of successful outcomes but also reduces the risk of complications and patient dissatisfaction.
Myth 7: Plastic surgery is always painful and involves long recovery times
It is not uncommon for the prospect of a painful, extensive recovery time to instill fear in those considering plastic surgery. However, the field has dramatically evolved in the past decade, and recent advancements in medical technology and techniques have substantially mitigated these concerns, radically transforming the patient experience.
Matarasso dispelled this common misconception, asserting that plastic surgery procedures in the modern era are significantly less discomforting and the recovery times are much faster than most anticipate.
"I personally have a rapid recovery system where we try not to use opioids," said Matarasso. "Preparation begins preoperatively to prepare the patient, and most of the operations have very little pain. Tummy tucks are very often not associated with long recovery periods. People will feel sore, perhaps and tired the first day or two, but I tell people almost everything we do. You can certainly be at your computer, doing some work in a day or two or taking a walk."
The utilization of long-acting pain medications in the operating room, as mentioned by Matarasso, is an essential factor that considerably reduces the immediate postoperative pain that patients may experience. Medications are administered to numb the area being operated on and to provide extended relief from discomfort, easing the patient's transition into the recovery phase. This allows patients to begin their healing process comfortably rather than grappling with overwhelming pain.
Myth 8: Noninvasive procedures yield the same results as surgical ones
Nonsurgical procedures, such as Botox and fillers, have surged in popularity over the past few years, largely due to their reduced recovery times and perceived less invasive nature. While these treatments are indeed effective in addressing certain aesthetic concerns, there is a widespread myth that they can replicate the same results as their surgical counterparts. To put it simply, this isn't always the case.
Matarasso cautioned against the danger of such misconceptions. As he has seen in his years of practice, patients sometimes attempt to replicate the results of surgical interventions using noninvasive procedures, which can lead to an undesirable, "overdone" look.
"The gold standard for a facelift result is a facelift," said Matarasso.
His statement underlines a fundamental truth in the field of aesthetic surgery. While nonsurgical facelift alternatives like dermal fillers, thread lifts or ultrasound and laser treatments can help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, none of these procedures can deliver the dramatic, comprehensive results that a surgical facelift can.
"The thing that people don't often think about is that these nonsurgical things very often have to be repeated a number of times here," said Matarasso. "And it is certainly human nature to feel more comfortable paying a smaller check many times. 'Just a one-time trip, right?' It opens up the world to younger people. It allows maintenance of procedures by doing those things, but if you need a surgical procedure, don't hope to get that from filler."
Myth 9: Any doctor can perform plastic surgery
One of the most persistent and potentially dangerous misconceptions is the belief that any doctor or surgeon, regardless of their specialty, can perform plastic surgery. While it's technically true that any licensed physician can legally carry out these procedures, that doesn't mean they should or that they are properly equipped to do so.
Board-certified plastic surgeons undergo specialized, rigorous training to hone their skill set and develop the specific expertise required in their field. The comprehensive nature of this education allows them to deliver safe and effective results consistently.
The path to becoming a plastic surgeon involves a journey through years of medical school, followed by a residency program in general surgery. Then, it requires an additional two to three years in a plastic surgery fellowship where they acquire hands-on experience and advanced knowledge in areas such as facial reconstruction, body contouring and aesthetic surgery.
What sets plastic surgeons apart is not just the quantity of their training but the quality as well. Each stage of their education is designed to cultivate a deep understanding of the human body, specifically focusing on the complexities of tissues, muscles and nerves involved in reconstructive and cosmetic procedures. This specialized knowledge is vital when it comes to handling the potential complications that can arise during and after surgery.
Myth 10: Plastic surgery is risk-free
No medical procedure is entirely risk-free, including plastic surgery. However, with proper preparation and skilled surgical practices, these risks can be significantly reduced.
"The biggest risk is abnormal bleeding," said Matarasso. "We take rigorous measures, like performing specific blood tests and avoiding certain medications, to minimize this risk. So, we will begin that protocol about 15 days before, and many of us are now using products in the operating room to diminish the risk of bleeding. The other risk is a blood clot, which is where you don't bleed enough, but you get a clot. We do things to assess the risk for that, and we mitigate that. And we test that with blood tests if you're prone to either side or that. We discern things to prevent it."
Matarasso also addressed the second-most prevalent concern with plastic surgery patients – infection.
"We do a lot of things to prevent infection too," said Matarasso. "We begin antimicrobial washes of the area that's being operated on prior to the surgery. We use antibiotics on those areas where, even in the belly button, where bacteria can accumulate. So, we use antibiotic treatments, and we use antibiotics in an appropriate fashion."
Understand the facts about plastic surgery
Debunking common misconceptions about plastic surgery is crucial for promoting a more accurate understanding of this field. Plastic surgery can produce natural-looking results, has become more accessible and inclusive and encompasses reconstructive procedures that can significantly improve lives.
By dispelling these misconceptions, we can foster a more informed and accepting attitude towards plastic surgery, recognizing its potential to enhance lives and promote self-confidence.
To find a qualified plastic surgeon for any cosmetic or reconstructive procedure, consult a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. All ASPS members are board certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, have completed an accredited plastic surgery training program, practice in accredited facilities and follow strict standards of safety and ethics. Find an ASPS member in your area.