Plastic Surgery

Young women's version of this guide
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Handsome man looking at his face in mirror
You’ve probably read about celebrities who’ve had cosmetic surgery, but do you know anyone who’s had plastic surgery to correct a deformity such as a cleft lip or acne scars? Read on to find out about the different kinds of plastic surgery and what you should know before having it.

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 surgery

There are many different kinds of cosmetic surgery. Most people who decide to have cosmetic surgery want to change something about their appearance that they don’t like. Laser surgery is an example of cosmetic surgery which is sometimes done to remove an unwanted tattoo.

Reconstructive surgery

This type of surgery is also often done to change something about a person’s appearance that they don’t like; however, it is usually done to correct a deformity that someone is either born with or gets as a result of an accident. Examples of reconstructive surgery include repair of a cleft lip or scar from a burn. Reconstructive surgery can correct a defect and in some cases it can improve the function of a body part. An example of this is ankle surgery that might help improve a person’s ability to walk. 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. Oversized 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 defect.
  3. 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 celebrities and models who appear to have perfect features: hair, ears, lips, nose, cheeks, 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 personal choice.

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, “most teens want plastic surgery to fit in with their peers, whereas adults tend to have plastic surgery to look younger or stand out from others.” In 2010, nearly 219,000 of plastic surgery procedures were done on teens between 13-19 years of age. The most common procedure for this age group was “rhinoplasty” (the reshaping of the nose such as removing a bump, etc.).

What should I think about before having plastic surgery?

Talk with your parent(s) and/or guardian 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 comfortable with 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 their 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 their 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 plastic 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 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 guys mature quickly, others 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.

Will my health insurance cover plastic surgery?

It‘s important to know that cosmetic (plastic) surgery is not usually covered by health insurance unless it is reconstructive surgery to correct a physical problem.

What else should I know about cosmetic surgery?

There are “alternatives” or other things you can do instead of having plastic surgery. For example, gynecomastia is a common condition where an increase of hormones during puberty (usually between 10-14 yrs. of age) causes glandular tissue to form that looks like male breasts or “man boobs.” Most of the time the swelling goes away on its own within 6 months to 2 years or by the late teen years. Instead of having cosmetic surgery, you could wear loose fitting shirts. It is still important to be checked by a health care  provider to figure out if something else such as certain medicine or a dietary supplement may be causing the gynecomastia.

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, with at least 3 years in plastic surgery that does 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 the possible risks involved, you know what’s going to happen during the surgery, and you also 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.
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