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Cosmetic procedures: what you need to know

Close up of a woman getting a facial dermabrasion treatment
Considering a cosmetic service or procedure? Speaking with a qualified health professional can help you understand the potential risks and benefits.

Cosmetic procedures come in many shapes and forms, from beauty treatments and facials to more extensive plastic surgery. The reasons people consider cosmetic procedures vary widely, too.

For some people, cosmetic procedures can offer physical and mental health benefits. Breast reduction surgery can help reduce chronic back and neck pain. Rhinoplasty (surgery to reshape or repair the nose) can be a way to correct the nose shape after an injury, address breathing difficulties, or change its appearance for aesthetic reasons. As well as reducing the appearance of lines and wrinkles, Botox injections can help minimise the physical and mental discomfort of excessive sweating.

Whatever your reason, weighing up both the benefits and risks can help you figure out if cosmetic procedures are right for you, and support you to approach it with health and safety in mind.

What to do before you go under the knife (or needle)

First things first, it’s important to speak with your GP. They can help you to determine if cosmetic procedures are appropriate for you and connect you with the right health professionals.

By talking with your GP, you might also find that less invasive options can help you to achieve your goals. For example, changes in diet and physical activity can help you to feel healthier. Likewise, a great sun protection and skin care regime can be fantastic for you both health and appearance.

It’s also important to consider your emotional wellbeing before making a big health decision. Having a healthy body image means being comfortable and knowing that there is more to you than just your physical appearance. If you’d like to talk with a psychologist or counsellor about body image or mental wellbeing, ask your GP if a mental health plan is right for you.

Safety starts with the right health credentials

Cosmetic surgery can be expensive, and for some people it may be tempting to head overseas where procedures are offered at a heavily discounted rate. But there are hidden costs to cosmetic tourism – including risks which could land you back in hospital for treatment or corrective surgery.

It’s vital to choose a qualified and reputable clinician or surgeon, in consultation with your GP. In Australia, Specialist Plastic Surgeons are qualified to perform plastic and reconstructive surgery. Certain cosmetic surgical procedures must be performed in a licensed Private Hospital or Day Hospital. Non-surgical treatments such as injections must be performed by registered doctors or registered and supervised nurses, and they need to have specialised training in cosmetic procedures. Be aware that ‘cosmetic surgeon’ is not a protected title in Australia, which means anyone with a medical degree can use it.

Doing your research is an essential step when considering cosmetic procedures. We’ve explored some of the potential risks and benefits here, but every person’s situation is unique. Speak with your clinician about the possible risks and complications for the procedure you’re considering. This checklist can help guide the conversation.

Cosmetic injectables and beauty therapies

Less invasive procedures can also come with risks.

Dermal fillers are used to plump facial features and reduce the appearance of lines and wrinkles. These procedures involve injecting collagen or fat under the skin. While fillers are considered minimally invasive, they can lead to pain, swelling, bruising, infection, and allergic reactions. Small lumps (nodules) can form under the skin, which can be difficult to treat. Other less common complications include scarring, skin damage and discolouration, and tissue death (necrosis), which can happen when the filler blocks or compresses a blood vessel.

Botox injections can reduce the appearance of facial wrinkles help manage conditions such as excessive sweating. The procedure involves injecting the Botulinum toxin into the skin where it blocks nerve signals, relaxing the targeted muscles. Be aware that Botox injections can potentially lead to unintended muscle weakness, causing the eyelid, eyebrow, or mouth to droop.

Chemical peels, dermabrasion, and skin rejuvenation aim to smooth the skin and reduce blemishes. They can cause redness, pain, itchiness, and skin pigmentation changes. Infection is also a risk, which can lead to scarring. In the days after having these procedures your skin will be more sensitive to sun damage. Remember to practice sun safety and stay out of the sun as much as possible, in accordance with your clinician’s advice.

Laser and intense pulsed light (IPL) services are used to remove hair and tattoos, reduce the appearance of capillaries, freckles, scars, and make other changes to the skin’s appearance. Short-term reactions like redness and swelling are common, and it’s important to protect your skin from the sun in the days after a service. Light-based cosmetic services can result in serious injury if performed incorrectly, including burns, infection, eye damage, blistering, skin pigmentation changes, and permanent scarring.

A woman gets a facial surgery consultation by a surgeon

Cosmetic surgery

Cosmetic surgery is just like any other surgery – complications can arise, and it’s important to weigh these up with the benefits of the procedure.

Pain, bruising and swelling are expected after surgery. Heavy bleeding can occur, and there’s a chance you’ll have an adverse reaction to anaesthesia or medical materials used in your treatment. Infection is one of the most common complications of surgery, and of course, you’ll be left with some scarring.

Blood and body fluid can pool under the skin post-surgery. Known as hematomas and seromas, they are among the most common complication of facelifts, breast augmentations, tummy tucks, liposuction and other body contouring procedures. Additional surgeries may be needed to treat haematomas, while seromas are usually drained with a needle to reduce the risk of infection.

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot that typically forms in the legs. Being bedridden after surgery increases your risk of DVT, as does having multiple procedures at once. DVTs can potentially detach from the vein and travel to the lungs, which can be life-threatening.

Liposuction involves sucking fat from target areas – commonly the belly, arms, thighs, or buttocks. It’s an invasive procedure that can be painful and requires lengthy post-operative care. Many complications can arise including infection, excessive fluid loss leading to shock, and damage to muscles, blood vessels, and organs.

Breast, buttock and other implants can be used to alter our body shape. It’s possible that implants might rupture, leak, deflate, or move from their original position. These complications can be painful and carry a risk of inflammation, infection and scar tissue formation. Damaged implants usually require corrective surgery.

Making the right decision for you

When it comes to our bodies and our health, it’s important to be informed.

Take the time to talk with your GP and other health professionals – they can help you navigate different options so you can make health decisions that are right for you.

Last updated: 31 July 2019