You’re in business to make people beautiful. To teens, especially, you can be a great resource and beauty role model. But while feeling beautiful builds confidence for those fragile young egos, the tricky part is that some teens will go to extreme lengths to achieve what they think of as beauty. From breast augmentation and reduction to “nose jobs,” smoothing out acne scars and otoplasty to pin back protruding ears, girls want options for approaching some definition of perfection.
In developing your own views on this topic so that you can answer teens’ and moms’ questions, it helps to have some facts and figures, along with the observations of a professional plastic surgeon. Dr. Cynthia Elliott, M.D., board-certified owner of Skinspirations in Clearwater, FL, serves as an expert witness in cosmetic medicine for the Florida Board of Medicine. Her company, ExpertEsthetics, provides online video training for other practitioners. She has been in practice for more than 20 years. When it comes to cosmetic procedures for teens, Elliott advises caution.
“Young bodies are still growing, and it is unclear how a procedure will affect their future development,” Elliott notes. “Adolescents fail to understand that their bodies are still maturing, and the results they desire may occur naturally as they grow. Because they’re also still growing emotionally, the appearance goal they have now may be entirely different from what they hope to look like a year or two from now.”
A parent must consent to any surgery on someone younger than 18. While the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) sets no age benchmarks, the group advises parents to consider the teen’s physical and emotional maturity. ASPS advises its members to perform cosmetic surgery on teens only when the teen:
1. Has realistic goals.
2. Clearly understands both the benefits and limitations of the surgery without expecting that the surgery will fix everything that’s wrong in the teen’s life.
3. Can tolerate the discomfort and temporary disfigurement of a surgical procedure.
Further, the ASPS statement says: “Plastic surgery is not recommended for teens who are prone to mood swings or erratic behavior, who are abusing drugs and/or alcohol or who are being treated for clinical depression or other mental illness.”
The health consequences Elliott cites that can result from cosmetic procedures include slow and painful recoveries, bacterial infections and scarring.
“Although teens may believe a new look will increase their self-esteem or popularity,” she says, “unrealistic expectations can set them up for major disappointment if those expectations aren’t met.”