The Fountain of Youth remains undiscovered, and more and more Americans are turning instead to cosmetic surgery to stave off the aging process. Whether it’s a botox injection or a facelift procedure, older Americans are trying to maintain a youthful visage in greater numbers than ever before.

There are potentially catastrophic side effects even to routine anti-aging procedures.

But with great wrinkle-smoothing can come great risk. There are potentially catastrophic side effects even to routine anti-aging procedures.

Incidents like HIV infections at an unlicensed New Mexico clinic that injected patients with their own blood platelets or a spate of complications in the injection of dermal fillers that have left some Australian patients blind may be freakish exceptions — but they underscore the importance of working with qualified practitioners and understanding the process to which you’re agreeing.

Considerable spoke to the experts themselves — the doctors and surgeons who specialize in cosmetic procedures — to find out which anti-aging procedures are most popular, what the risks are, and what every potential patient needs to know before entering a clinic.

When it comes to looking younger, the face is Ground Zero for anti-aging procedures. Not to discount the popularity of plastic surgery on other parts of the body, but fending off the pesky combination of gravity and the earth’s rotation around the sun typically focuses on eyelids, lips, cheeks, chins, noses, necks, and foreheads.

What are the risks involved in cosmetic procedures?

Risk factors depend heavily upon the type of procedure being pursued. Non-surgical procedures like botox, fillers, and laser treatments are less risky than surgical procedures but still deserve the proper caution. 

Dr. Anthony Youn, a well-known plastic surgeon and podcast host, told Considerable, “Botox is pretty darn safe, but if improperly injected could cause a droopy eyelid or droopy lip, which lasts about three to four months.”

On the other hand, “Injectable fillers, the second most common cosmetic procedure, can be much more dangerous,” Youn warned. “If they are accidentally injected into a blood vessel they can cause scarring, deformity, and even blindness.”

But while injectables like botox and fillers can cause significant side effects if performed incorrectly, overall they are much less risky than surgical procedures. 

Experts were quick to point out that surgery always carries risk, no matter if it’s on your face or your foot.

Dr. Phillip R. Langsdon, president of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, focused on facelifts to make this point: “The risks of facelift include the normal risks associated with anesthesia and the actual procedure. Some of the risks are not necessarily specific to facelift and can occur with any type of surgery.”

Even so, the most common significant danger from a facelift is injury or stretching to the facial nerve that gives you movement to your face. Yeah, that’s pretty important. This frozen face is usually temporary, but it can be extremely frustrating for patients.

So what can people do to decrease their risks?

The pros agreed: Find somebody who is experienced and qualified, understands what your goals are and has clearly explained to you the options available to you.  The qualified part is huge.

Dr. Wendy Kar Yee Ng, board certified plastic surgeon in Orange County, California, got right to the point: “The minimum qualification that you should look for if you are undergoing a surgical aesthetic procedure/plastic surgery is that your surgeon is credentialed by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. This guarantees that your surgeon has at least five to six years of plastic surgery training, and that your surgeon has completed rigorous written and oral board exams including presenting his or her collected cases to peers in plastic surgery.”

Dr. Ng warned against getting a procedure done by an unqualified person with credentials that are shoddy or lacking. “At a minimum, your surgeon needs to have completed a surgical residency program that includes that type of procedure that you are considering.”

Dr. Youn concurred: “If you are having any type of cosmetic surgery, make sure your surgeon is certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery and a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons or American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.  Anything less is unacceptable.”

You get what you pay for

Saving money makes sense when it comes to choosing a brand of ketchup or a type of pet food — not someone who will change your face.

As Dr. Langsdon explained, “You will not find a good, experienced core specialty provider (facial plastic surgeon, plastic surgeon, cosmetic dermatologist, eye plastic surgeon) who will provide cheap services. The quality of facial plastic surgery or facial aesthetic injections/procedures is dependent upon the experience, training, and talent of the person providing the treatment … rather than the name of the procedure or product used.

“An experienced esthetic surgeon will rarely be the cheapest,” he continued. “So, buyer beware!  Also, beware of website hype. Some providers with very little training have websites that trick the general public into believing they are more experienced than they are.”

I’ve found a qualified doctor who specializes in the specific procedure I want.  Now what?  

You’re not done yet, as you still have some bases to cover. And covering bases means asking questions.

Ask to see photos of other patients who had the same procedure or surgery. Ask how often the provider performs the treatment being sought. Also ask for alternative treatment options, if there are any. Ask about the full plan for treatment following the procedure, and what kind of recovery regimen you can expect to undertake.

With cosmetic surgery so readily available, it’s easy to choose the wrong person to perform the wrong procedure

Another important scenario to ask about is what happens if the procedure isn’t satisfactory. What is your doctor’s standard practice with dissatisfied patients? You want a surgeon who can not only do your procedure, but who can also take care of you if there are less-than-ideal outcomes.

With cosmetic surgery so readily available, it’s easy to choose the wrong person to perform the wrong procedure.

Taking the time to do your research and putting thought and energy into the decision can be the difference between finding a fountain of youth, and a fountain of wasted hope.  

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