Plastic Surgery’s Reality Check

In the quest for eternal beauty, that old adage “Be careful what you wish for” never rang truer. Leading New York plastic surgeon Gerald Imber, M.D., reveals the promises and pitfalls.

Cosmetic surgery is not a miracle. It’s an artful blend of science, experience, and good taste. Subtract any of these elements and the whole becomes less than the sum of its parts. The point is to improve your appearance, and there are many ways to reach this goal—along with many potential pitfalls. The most important rule? There is no substitute for excellence. It’s your body, your face, your future—don’t accept anything but the best.

Start with credentials. Good surgeons are everywhere, but so are marginal operators trying to cash in on the $12 billion beauty business. Find a doctor certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (abplsurg.org); it’s assurance that a surgeon didn’t sneak through the back door. And be sure the person you pick has been properly trained for the task. A dentist injecting Botox does not make an ideal candidate. Experience is also crucial. As a rule, surgeons who do a procedure often, do it better. Ask for specifics.

Communicate. If you can’t say what’s on your mind, you’ve slipped from choice to chance. In turn, listen to what your surgeon is telling you—and be prepared for possible disappointment.

Beyond smart shopping and communication, it’s important to be aware of which treatments and procedures give results and which just don’t. The latest youth serum from Paris or that revolutionary new procedure you saw in an ad simply won’t stand up to professional scrutiny. Here are a few of my favorite truths.

There is no cure for cellulite. Cellulite is the term for dimples caused by fibrous bands connecting deep tissue to the skin. It may be related to weight gain, but we don’t know for sure—and we certainly don’t know how to cure it. Nothing applied to the skin or taken in pill form can correct it. A temporary, partial solution is liposuction (from $5,000).

Miraculous noninvasive facelifts don’t exist. Procedures like the so-called string lift turn out to be more invasive than advertised and can lead to unnatural-looking results. It’s hard to pull up the face with a couple of strings and not make it look like a puppet. Acupuncture facelifts, in turn, have no anatomical basis and may only make you look happier for a while by making you think you look better. By contrast, natural fillers, like autologous fat transfers (from $3,000) that involve using your own fat, have proved safe and long lasting. Intended to reduce frown lines and folds and enlarge cheekbones and chin, the procedure has survived scientific scrutiny—and it works.

You will be red-faced for weeks after laser skin resurfacing (from $2,000). It’s a very effective treatment, but you can’t laser away wrinkles and blemishes then expect to go right back to work. On the other hand, superficial laser and light resurfacing works on discoloration and fine lines with minimal downtime, although the procedure must be repeated to be successful.

Facial-muscle exercises actually cause wrinkles. Why would anyone recommend doing them?

Exercise programs to increase breast size do not work. The breast is composed of gland and fat, with chest muscles underneath. You may build up your pectorals, but you won’t enlarge your breasts. Lotions, potions, and creams don’t work either. Any cream that could stimulate breast enlargement would be a potentially dangerous hormone regulated by the FDA.

Great Find

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