Risks of Plastic Surgery

Alexander E. Spacher

While certain cosmetic procedures may sound cutting-edge, many are not yet approved to do what doctors claim. Here are three to avoid.

Rumor has it that the face of one great French beauty is held up by a fine mesh of 22-karat-gold stitches. This technique, supposedly perfected in Paris, hasn’t caught on, but consumers continuously search for the latest way to achieve youth and beauty—yet certain methods have proven to be unproven.

Bringing Up the Rear

In March 2010 six women showed up in the emergency rooms of Essex County, New Jersey, some of whom had to be treated for serious bacterial infections following buttocks-enhancement injections. The substance used was reported to be hydrogel, similar to the squishy blue patches sold in drugstores to protect blisters. According to the Physicians Coalition for Injectable Safety, the FDA has not given the green light for its use as a filler or an injectable for the buttocks.

“Hydrogel is really thick, so it’s great for creating a nice barrier, like a second skin,” says Robert Weiss, M.D., a Maryland-based dermatologist. “Sure, it has a lot of volume to it, but our buttocks have many big vessels, and it can travel back to the lungs. It’s more often used in countries where there is less fear of lawsuits and organizations like the FDA.” Fat from your own body and gluteal implants are considered the only safe measures for augmenting this part of the anatomy.

Getting Sedated

Breast augmentation, liposuction and even facelifts done under sedation rather than general anesthesia have been marketed as superior because the patient can “participate” by, for example, giving her opinion on the implant size or thigh shape. “It’s a gimmick being promoted to appeal to people who fear anesthesia,” says Michael McGuire, M.D., a director of the American Board of Plastic Surgery. “Standing someone up who’s under a lot of sedation—to me it’s absurd, it’s malpractice. If you know what you’re doing, you can pinch and feel and tell what the results will be. And the level of anesthesia for these procedures is not what is needed for, say, a hip replacement. The patient is out of it for the duration but will wake up quickly.”

Lifting Sagging Skin

To reduce the downtime and cost of a facelift, some people have turned to a procedure using barbed sutures that are actually sewn under the facial tissues to grab and lift sagging skin. “Thread-lifts appear to be DOA,” says North Carolina plastic surgeon Felmont Eaves, M.D. “The vast majority of surgeons who tried them have abandoned them, believing they lacked predictability, and the results, if any, were very transient. Sometimes one could even see the threads tethering; they just didn’t hold the tissues long-term. Tissues grow and remodel, and the tension will not stay.” In a study published in 2009 in Archives of Facial Plastic Surgery, researchers found that the thread-lift provided only limited short-term improvement, which might be largely attributed to swelling and inflammation after the procedure. Its conclusion: “Given these findings, as well as the measurable risk of adverse events and patient discomfort, we cannot justify further use of this procedure for facial rejuvenation.”