Cosmetic surgery

Cosmetic surgery is often carried out to change a person’s appearance in order to achieve what they perceive to be a more desirable look.

However, in certain situations cosmetic surgery may be needed for functional reasons. For example, breast reduction is sometimes used to alleviate back or neck pain.

Cosmetic surgery is different to plastic surgery. Plastic surgery repairs damaged skin and tissue following injury or illness. It also provides reconstructive surgery after major injuries or cancer removal operations.

During cosmetic surgery, a number of different bodily features may be changed, including:

  • skin colour
  • skin texture
  • the structure or position of a body part, such as the nose

Can I get cosmetic surgery on the NHS?

Cosmetic surgery is rarely available through the NHS. There must be major physical or psychological reasons for considering cosmetic surgery.

In rare cases, a primary care trust (PCT) may decide that cosmetic surgery is required to protect a person’s health, although NHS resources are limited and waiting times are usually long. For this reason, most people pay to have cosmetic surgery privately.

Read more about the availability of cosmetic surgery.

Making a decision

Deciding to have cosmetic surgery isn't a decision that should be taken lightly. Cosmetic surgery can be expensive and time consuming. The results are often variable and can't be guaranteed.

Therefore it's important that you give careful thought and consideration when deciding to have cosmetic surgery. It's a good idea to discuss your plans with your GP before going ahead with private treatment. If you decide to have surgery, be absolutely sure about your reasons for wanting to have it.

Read more about considering cosmetic surgery.

Choosing a surgeon

If you decide to have cosmetic surgery, it's very important that the surgeon and other healthcare professionals who will be carrying out the procedure are fully qualified and experienced in the type of procedure you're having.

You should discuss the procedure in detail with your surgeon. Ask as many questions as you need to so that you're fully aware of what the procedure involves, how it will be carried out, what the results will be and whether there will be any after effects.

See recommendations for cosmetic surgery for advice about how to ensure a cosmetic surgeon is fully qualified.

When things go wrong

As with all types of surgery, cosmetic surgery can sometimes go wrong and the results may not be what you expected. To reduce the chances of this happening you should:

  • make sure that your expectations of what surgery can achieve are realistic
  • make sure that the surgeon understands what you want
  • follow the advice that your surgeon gives you about aftercare

Read more on how to make a complaint about cosmetic surgery.

Non-surgical cosmetic treatments and plastic surgery

Non-surgical cosmetic treatments are procedures that change a person’s appearance without using surgery. They include:

  • muscle paralysis – such as injections of botulinum toxin (Botox) to help relax facial muscles and make lines and wrinkles less obvious
  • dermal fillers – injected into wrinkles or creases to fill them out
  • chemical peels – which use chemicals to remove the outer layer of skin cells
  • microdermabrasion – which uses fine crystals and a vacuum to remove dead skin cells
  • non-surgical laser and intense light treatments – such as hair removal

Read more about non-surgical cosmetic procedures.

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