Cosmetic Surgery and Teens
By Valerie Copeland
As acceptance for appearance-altering cosmetic procedures has grown, so has the number of teens undergoing plastic surgery. Still though, the situation is a far cry from an epidemic - according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), of a total figure of over 10 million cosmetic procedures performed in 2005, only roughly 330,000 were on patients 18 and under.
The ASPS's research suggests that teenagers and adults have different reasons for undergoing cosmetic procedures. A key motivator for teens is the desire to fit in. But while plastic surgery can enhance a young person's body image and self-confidence, it's not a cure for serious self-image issues or emotional and mental health problems (such as depression) - cosmetic procedures are not a replacement for a healthy lifestyle.
There are situations where plastic surgery can be appropriate and even beneficial for young people. Ear surgery (otoplasty, or "pinning back" the ears) for example, can be performed on children as young as five; nose reshaping (rhinoplasty) is another popular choice for young people. Breast reduction may also be helpful for older girls experiencing shoulder or back pain, breathing problems or embarrassment in social situations. For most surgical procedures, it's necessary to let the body finish developing before any work is done - the general guideline is age 14 for girls, and a year or two older for boys.
Not all popular cosmetic procedures for teenagers are surgical - more than two thirds of those recorded in 2005 were what the ASPS calls minimally-invasive cosmetic procedures. That includes treatments to minimize acne and acne scarring (chemical peel and microdermabrasion) as well as laser hair removal.
Other common plastic surgery choices for teens include gynecomastia - a reductive procedure for young men with excessive breast tissue - and corrective surgery for breast asymmetry in young women; in both cases the surgeries can be performed on teenagers as young as 16. Breast augmentation is a popular surgery for 18-year-olds, but is not recommended for younger girls because of the possibility of late development and the lack of FDA approval.
If your teenager is talking about plastic surgery, it's important for both of you to understand why he or she wants the procedure. Young people's bodies undergo many significant changes during adolescence; some aspects of their appearance that seem out of place or disproportionate at the time, may actually change or become more accepted over time. It's also crucial to ensure that teens (and adults) who are considering plastic surgery are doing it for themselves, and not to please someone else.
Parents should talk to their teenagers about the procedures they desire, and help them find as much information as possible - for example, what they can expect before surgery, during and after (including healing time), as well as cost. Some procedures, like breast reduction, may be covered by insurance, but most cosmetic treatments have to be paid out of pocket.
Getting all the facts can take time, but that's okay; cosmetic surgery isn't something teens should rush into. If they're still gung ho after doing some research, then help them find a respected plastic surgeon (like one certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgeons) so they can meet with the doctor for assessment and to ask questions. If your teenager has a realistic and stable body image in general, but is concerned about a specific aspect of their appearance, then cosmetic surgery could be the way to go.
About the Author
Valerie Copeland is the assistant editor at Cosmetic Surgery Insider.net; an online magazine with information about cosmetic surgery, tummy tuck, laser eye surgery and more.
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