Plastic Surgery

  • Young men's version of this guide

beautiful young woman looks at her ears in front of the mirror

You’ve probably read about celebrities and supermodels having surgery to enhance their breasts, nose, lips, etc. But, do you know anyone who’s had plastic surgery to correct a deformity such as a cleft lip or uneven breasts, or for treating acne scars? Read on to find out about the different kinds of plastic surgery and what you should know about various procedures.

What is plastic surgery?

Plastic surgery is a medical specialty that focuses on changing or reshaping a part of the body. “Plastic” comes from a Greek word that means to shape or mold. There are basically two kinds of plastic surgery; cosmetic and reconstructive.

Cosmetic Procedures

Most of the time when a person chooses to have cosmetic surgery, it’s because they don’t like something about their appearance and they want to change it. There are many different types of cosmetic procedures, some more invasive than others. Procedures such as laser therapy, Botox injections, or filler injections are all examples of non-invasive cosmetic procedures. Invasive procedures such as facelifts, butt implants, breast implants, or nose reconstructions (those that aren’t medically necessary) are all examples of cosmetic surgery. These are called “cosmetic” because the patient is choosing to have the procedure to change some part of how they look. Most of the time, these procedures aren’t “medically necessary” meaning they don’t impact a person’s physical health. It’s important to mention that in most cases insurance companies won’t cover cosmetic procedures, unless certain criteria are met.

Reconstructive surgery

This type of surgery is also often done to change something about a person’s physical appearance; however, it is usually done to correct a deformity that someone is either born with, develops as a result of medical treatment (like therapies for cancer), or gets as a result of an accident or injury. Examples of reconstructive surgery include repair of a cleft lip or removing a scar from a burn. Reconstructive surgery may not only correct the physical appearance of a defect but, in some cases, can also improve how the body part functions.  Reconstructive plastic surgery can make a positive difference in a person’s life.

Common types of Reconstructive Plastic Surgery:

  1. Reshaping or changing the size of the ear(s) (Otoplasty). This procedure can usually be done after the age of five and is usually done because of a birth defect. Large ears that stick out can be pinned back to look smaller.
  2. Reshaping of the nose (Rhinoplasty). This procedure should not be done until the nose has reached its adult size which is when a teen is about 15-16 years old. In some cases, rhinoplasty may be considered “cosmetic surgery” if there is no problem with how the nose functions (e.g., problems breathing).
  3. Reshaping/resizing breast(s) (Breast augmentation). Surgery is usually done to treat teens with breast asymmetry (breasts that grow to very different sizes, where one breast is significantly larger than the other, usually more than 2-3 cup sizes different).   Poland syndrome (a problem with chest growth and development due to missing or under-developed muscles on one side of the body) is one example of a cause for breast asymmetry.  To treat breast asymmetry, the surgeon may use breast implants to help make both breasts the same size. Breast augmentation is also done if treatments for diseases like cancer require removal of the breast(s).  Another common reason for breast surgery is the treatment of pain caused from very large and heavy breasts, called macromastia. A breast reduction surgery (removing breast tissue to make the breasts smaller) can help to treat pain from macromastia, but should be done only after a young woman’s breasts are done growing and developing.
  4. Improving acne scars – (Microdermabrasion or laser surgery) both of these procedures can be done to improve the appearance of scars caused from acne.

Why might teens want to have plastic surgery?

There are different reasons why a teen may want to have plastic surgery. Magazines, movies, billboards, and other forms of media show images of models and celebrities who appear to have perfect features of their hair, breasts, lips, nose, etc. Some teens may feel pressured to look just like these pictures. Other teens want plastic surgery because they are unhappy or they are tired of being teased about their looks and simply want to fit in with society.

Research has shown that most teens who have had reconstructive plastic surgery when they were mature enough to make their own decision, say that the results improved their self-esteem. It’s also important to know that plastic surgery is not a quick fix for gaining confidence and there’s no guarantee that someone will feel better about themselves or even like the results of surgery. Having plastic surgery is a very personal choice.

What should I think about before having plastic surgery?

Talk with your parent(s) and/or guardian(s) and make a list of all of the questions you and your family have about the procedure. Then talk to your surgeon and get all of your questions answered BEFORE you decide to have surgery. It’s not a good reason to have plastic surgery because you’re feeling pressured by the media, your friends, partner, or your parent(s)/guardian.  Anyone who truly loves you should accept you as you are, including your shape, size, and features.

If you don’t feel pressured, and you have realistic expectations of the surgery and recovery period, you may be very excited about having plastic surgery.

How do I know if I’m a good candidate for plastic surgery?

Most doctors agree that the best outcomes happen when a patient is 18 or older or when a teen meets the following criteria:

  • The teen contacts her health care provider and/or a plastic surgeon to find out about a specific plastic surgery procedure.
  • The teen has realistic expectations and understands what the plastic surgery can and cannot do to improve her appearance and/or body function.
  • The teen is mature and able to understand that there will likely be some swelling, bruising and pain for a period of time after the surgery.

Talk with your health care provider and get all of your questions answered and learn about all the possible risks of having surgery. Some of the risks may include infection, damage to vital organs, and possibly death. You’ll have to weigh the pros and cons and you may want to ask your surgeon if you can talk to another teen that has had the procedure, so you know what to expect.

Why should I hold off on having plastic surgery?

If you have thought about all of the benefits and risks and still want to have plastic surgery, you should wait until your body part (that will be reshaped/reconstructed) has fully developed. Teens go through puberty at different rates. While some girls mature quickly, other girls may continue to develop into their early twenties. Also, different parts of your body may develop at different times. If you decide to have plastic surgery before your body has completely developed, you may not get the results you want, or could even need to have further procedures in the future.

Will my health insurance cover plastic surgery?

It’s important to know that most cosmetic procedures are not usually covered by health insurance unless it is reconstructive surgery to correct a physical problem. For example: Most insurance policies will cover a breast reduction procedure if a young woman is suffering from chronic back pain caused from heavy breasts.  Breast augmentation procedures are covered when there is a congenital problem (problem you were born with, like Poland syndrome) that causes breast asymmetry, or if breast reconstruction is needed after cancer treatments.  However, if a person is dissatisfied that they are an A cup instead of a D cup, breast implant surgery is unlikely to be covered by insurance.

What else should I know about cosmetic surgery?

There are “alternatives” or other things you can do instead of having plastic surgery.

For example: If you have one breast that is smaller than the other, you could wear a special insert in one side of your bra. Specialty stores also have bathing suits, leotards, and tank tops that are built to disguise any differences in breast size.

I’ll feel much better about myself after I have plastic surgery, right?

You may want to have plastic surgery because you’re not happy with the way you look or feel about yourself. Plastic surgery is not a quick fix for this but research has also shown that many teens who have reconstructive surgery gain self-esteem and confidence. It’s important to keep in mind that having confidence and positive self- esteem is not just about how you look; it’s also about recognizing your unique strengths and qualities.

OK, I’ve given plastic surgery a lot of thought– now what?

If you decide to have plastic surgery (and you are aware of the possible risks), you’ll need to find a board-certified plastic surgeon with at least 6 years of surgical training. Within those 6 years of surgical training, make sure the surgeon has spent at least 3 years specializing in plastic surgery. Finally, once you have found a surgeon with these qualifications, make sure they perform surgery at an accredited hospital.

Also, keep in mind that when you or your parent/guardian (if you are under 18) sign a surgical consent form, it means that you: understand all of the possible risks involved, you know what’s going to happen during the surgery, and you know what to expect after the surgery. Make sure you get all of your questions answered before you (or your parent/guardian) sign the consent form. Most importantly, you should feel 100% sure that you want the surgery.

As you get older, you may be more accepting of your body and proud of your features because they are what make YOU special and unique. If you decide to have plastic surgery, make sure that it is YOUR choice and all your questions have been answered. Feeling good about yourself and accepting your body is what’s most important.