Cosmetic surgery can help improve your appearance, but it's not for everyone. Know what to consider before surgery, how to find a surgeon and what questions to ask. By Mayo Clinic Staff

Cosmetic surgery, or plastic surgery, might seem like the easiest way to shave years off your appearance or improve your physique. If you're not satisfied with your appearance, cosmetic surgery might help you look and feel better.

Cosmetic surgery, however, has risks and limitations. If you're considering cosmetic surgery, here's what you need to know.

Cosmetic surgery changes your appearance by altering parts of your body that function normally but don't look the way you want. Before you proceed with cosmetic surgery, consider:

  • Your expectations. Anticipate improvement, not perfection. If you expect cosmetic surgery to turn you into a movie star, you're bound to be disappointed. Don't count on surgery to save a rocky relationship, gain a promotion or improve your social life.
  • Expense. Cosmetic surgery isn't covered by most health insurance plans. The cost varies depending on the procedure, ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Also, consider the cost of any follow-up care or additional corrective procedures.
  • Risks. Dissatisfaction is possible after any type of cosmetic surgery. Surgical complications are possible, too — including excessive bleeding or infection at the surgical site.
  • Recovery. After cosmetic surgery, you might need days, weeks or even months to recover. Understand the physical effects that might be part of your recovery, as well as how the surgery might affect aspects of your personal and professional life.
  • Psychological changes. Your self-esteem might improve after cosmetic surgery, but cosmetic surgery isn't likely to relieve depression or other mental health conditions.

If you decide to pursue cosmetic surgery, you'll probably have your choice of cosmetic surgeons. Choose one who specializes in the procedure you'd like to have done and is certified in the specialty by a board recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties, such as the American Board of Plastic Surgery or the American Board of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. Beware of misleading certifications from unrecognized or self-designated boards.

If you'll be having a procedure that requires general anesthesia, be sure that the operating facility has been accredited by a national- or state-recognized accrediting agency, such as The Joint Commission, or is licensed by the state in which the facility is located.

When you've narrowed your choice of surgeons, schedule a consultation — or multiple consultations with different surgeons. The surgeon will evaluate the part of your body that you want treated, and you'll share your medical history, list any medications you're taking, and discuss your desires and expectations. During the initial consultation, ask the surgeon:

  • Am I a good candidate for this procedure? Why or why not?
  • Are there treatments other than surgery that might work just as well or better for me?
  • How many times have you done this procedure? What were the results?
  • Can you share before and after photos or diagrams to help me understand the procedure and the expected results?
  • Can the desired effect be accomplished in one procedure, or do you anticipate multiple procedures?
  • What are the surgical options? What are the pros and cons for each?
  • Will the results be permanent?
  • What type of anesthetic will be used? How will it affect me?
  • Will I be hospitalized? If so, for how long?
  • What are the possible complications?
  • How will my progress be monitored after surgery? What follow-up care will I need? How long of a recovery period can I expect?
  • How much will the procedure cost?

The closer you work with your surgeon to establish specific, measurable and achievable goals before surgery, the more likely you are to be satisfied with the results.

Remember, though, even if you've done your homework and found a surgeon you like — at a price you can afford — the decision to pursue cosmetic surgery is yours and yours alone. Make sure you're comfortable with the surgeon and committed to your treatment choices.

Mar. 06, 2013