The goal of cosmetic surgery is to improve a person's appearance and, thus, self-esteem and self-confidence. Cosmetic surgery can be performed on any part of the face and body.

Types of cosmetic surgery

For the face

For the body

Mayo Clinic's approach

Why it's done

Because cosmetic surgery can bring lasting and dramatic changes to the outside appearance, it is important to understand how these changes may affect you on the inside. Before making an appointment to see a cosmetic surgeon, you should consider your motives for wanting to change how you look.

Many physical characteristics can be successfully changed through cosmetic surgery; others cannot. Good candidates for cosmetic surgery:

  • Have realistic expectations about what can be accomplished.
  • Understand the medical risks, physical effects during healing, how the surgery will affect them personally and professionally, what lifestyle changes may accompany the recovery period, and the expenses involved.
  • Have discussed their goals for surgery with their surgeon and resolved any questions.
  • Have chronic medical conditions under control.
  • Have no history of smoking or commit to abstain from smoking (including secondhand smoke) and nicotine products, including chewing tobacco and nicotine patches, gums or lozenges for 4-6 weeks before and after surgery.
  • Have had a stable weight for six months to one year.


All surgeries, including cosmetic procedures, carry risk. Those with a history of cardiovascular disease, lung disease, diabetes or obesity have a higher risk of developing complications such as pneumonia, stroke, heart attack or blood clots in the legs or lungs. Smoking also increases risks and interferes with healing.

A meeting with the surgeon will include a discussion of these risks and others related to the patient's health history.

Possible complications for any surgical procedure include:

  • Complications related to anesthesia, including pneumonia, blood clots and, rarely, death
  • Infection at the incision site, which may worsen scarring and require additional surgery
  • Fluid build up under the skin
  • Mild bleeding, which may require another surgical procedure, or bleeding significant enough to require a transfusion
  • Obvious scarring or skin breakdown, which occurs when healing skin separates from healthy skin and must be removed surgically
  • Numbness and tingling from nerve damage, which may be permanent

How you prepare

Questions to consider before pursuing cosmetic surgery

  • What are my motives for wanting to change how I look?
  • What are the specific attributes of my appearance that I want to change?
  • Do I have realistic expectations about the results of the surgery?
  • What aspects of my life will be affected such as family, work, travel and social obligations?
  • Is this a good time in my life to have cosmetic surgery?
  • Have I talked about my concerns and questions openly with my doctor?

Questions to ask the cosmetic surgeon

It is a good idea to bring a notepad to write down answers.

  • What are your qualifications?
  • How long have you been board-certified?
  • How many procedures have you done similar to the one I'm considering?
  • What other health care professionals will be involved in my care?
  • What results can I expect?
  • Will I need a physical examination prior to surgery?
  • Are there risks unique to my health history?

Questions to ask about a procedure

  • What does the procedure do? What does it not do?
  • Is this the right treatment for me? Are there other procedures I should consider?
  • What are the risks and complications associated with this procedure?
  • How long is the recovery period?
  • Can I expect much discomfort? What are my pain management options?
  • Will I have any scars and if yes, what will they look like?
  • If my procedure requires stitches, when will they be removed?
  • What kind of activity restrictions will I have following surgery?
  • How long before I can go back to my regular routine?
  • How long before I see the final results of my surgery?
  • How long will the results last?
  • How much does the procedure cost?

What you can expect

The most important factor in deciding whether to have cosmetic surgery is to have a clear understanding of what will happen before, during and after the procedure, and what results to expect. Many physical characteristics can be successfully changed, while others cannot. The more realistic your expectations, the more likely you will be satisfied with the results.

Before the procedure

During the first meeting, your surgeon will explain how cosmetic surgery can change the body and what you can expect as a result. This is an opportunity for you to explain what you hope to achieve with surgery. Understanding the options and possible outcomes will help you make the best decision.

You will be informed about specific procedures, what to expect, the benefits, risks and possible complications, as well as other alternatives. The physician may recommend additional procedures to enhance the overall result.

The concept of asymmetry will be explained. The human body is asymmetric, meaning one side of the body looks naturally different from the other. Consider the image reflected in the mirror — a photographic image is a true image, the opposite of the mirror image. The surgeon helps patients understand this so they can fully appreciate their true appearance and how this may change with cosmetic surgery.

The surgeon also will explain the concept of balance — how changing one part of the body may affect overall appearance and how additional surgical procedures may bring greater balance.

Nurse review

You will also meet with a nurse, who reviews general questions about health, current medications — including aspirin, vitamin E, over-the-counter medications and supplements — and lifestyle issues, such as smoking history.

The nurse will also review what you can expect following surgery, including pain, medications, diet, activity and work restrictions, and details such as the need to arrange for a ride home following the procedure.

By listening and following instructions from the surgeon and health care team, you can minimize the risks and complications of surgery.

Consent form

You will be asked to sign a consent form so that photographs may be taken before and after surgery. Photographs serve as a reference for the surgeon during the procedure and become a part of your medical record.

Estimate of costs

You will be asked to visit the business office to get a written estimate of surgical fees. Insurance typically does not cover cosmetic surgery procedures. Payment is generally required prior to surgery.

Preoperative examination

You may be scheduled for a pre-operative examination to assess general health prior to surgery.

During the procedure

Cosmetic surgery procedures requiring general anesthesia or IV (intravenous) sedation are performed in the hospital under the care of an anesthesiologist/nurse anesthetist team. Others procedures, such as injections of facial fillers, may be performed in an outpatient setting or physician's office under local anesthesia. Prior to surgery, you will see the surgeon (or a member of your health care team) one more time to answer any remaining questions.

After the procedure

Prior to outpatient surgery or before discharge from the hospital, you will receive:

  • Instructions for post-surgical care specific to your procedure
  • Medication instructions and prescriptions (for example, for pain medications and antibiotics)
  • Phone numbers to call for questions


Even with instruction and preparation, you may be alarmed by the bruising and swelling that follow cosmetic surgery and how long they last. Bruising may take a minimum of three weeks to diminish; swelling may take even longer.

It is not uncommon to experience a brief period of "the blues" or low spirits during recovery. Prematurely judging the results of the surgery or waiting to return to normal activities may contribute to feelings of disappointment and frustration.

Realistic expectations are key — the goal is improvement, not perfection. Each person will have different result. Keep in mind that:

  • Bruising and swelling are temporary. Surgical scars are permanent.
  • Recovery times vary by person and procedure, but a minimum of 6 to 12 weeks is typical for many cosmetic surgeries.
  • Follow-up surgeries may be needed to achieve your goals.

Clinical trials

Explore Mayo Clinic studies testing new treatments, interventions and tests as a means to prevent, detect, treat or manage this disease.

Cosmetic surgery care at Mayo Clinic

July 19, 2017
  1. Neligan PC. Managing the cosmetic patient. In: Plastic Surgery. 3rd ed. London, England: Elsevier Saunders; 2013. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed April 28, 2017.
  2. Cosmetic procedure questions. American Society for Dermatologic Surgery. http://www.asds.net/PatientSafetyPreProcedureQuestionnaire.aspx. Accessed April 28, 2017.
  3. Questions to ask your plastic surgeon. American Society of Plastic Surgeons. https://www.plasticsurgery.org/patient-safety?sub=Questions+to+Ask+Your+Plastic+Surgeon. Accessed April 28, 2017.
  4. Neligan PC. Patient safety in plastic surgery. In: Plastic Surgery. 3rd ed. London, England: Elsevier Saunders; 2013. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed April 28, 2017.
  5. Quit smoking before your operation. American College of Surgeons. https://www.facs.org/education/patient-education/patient-resources/prepare/quit-smoking. Accessed April 28, 2017.
  6. Patient safety tips. American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. http://www.surgery.org/consumers/patient-safety/surgical-risks-overview. Accessed April 28, 2017.
  7. Tummy tuck guide. American Board of Cosmetic Surgery. http://www.americanboardcosmeticsurgery.org/procedure-learning-center/body/tummy-tuck-guide/. Accessed April 28, 2017.
  8. Ericksen WL1, Billick SB. Psychiatric issues in cosmetic plastic surgery. Psychiatry Quarterly. 2012;83:343.


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