Do you ever look in a mirror and think your face would be OK if it weren't for your nose? Maybe you feel your ears stick straight out, and nothing you do can hide them. Perhaps you're self-conscious about your breasts being way too large. Or maybe a bad case of acne has left scars or pits on your face. If you're self-conscious about a physical characteristic, you may be among the thousands of teens who consider plastic surgery each year.
According to the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons (ASPS), in 2020, nearly 230,000 cosmetic surgeries and nearly 140,000 non-invasive cosmetic procedures were performed on teens ages 13-19. Some of the most common types of plastic surgery teens choose include nose jobs and correction of protruding ears, too-large breasts, asymmetrical breasts, and scarring caused by acne or injuries. A lot of procedures go unreported, though, including those performed in dermatology offices and spas.
Why Do Teens Seek Plastic Surgery?
Teens seek plastic surgery for many reasons. One reason many cite is that young people can be cruel, whether intentionally or not. For example, someone may blurt out to a friend, "Gee, did you see that kid's nose?" -- without thinking of the pain it may cause. A constant barrage of cruel remarks often drives teens to take surgical action.
Most teens seek plastic surgery to improve their appearance or to increase self-esteem. Teens often report that their self-image and self-confidence improves when their perceived physical shortcomings are corrected.
While these reasons are similar to those of adults, teens often want to fit in with others, rather than stand out, where appearance is concerned. So it is important for teens considering plastic surgery to be sure that they are doing it for themselves -- not to meet the expectations of anyone else.
A teen also needs emotional maturity and family support to get through what many consider a "minor" corrective procedure. The truth is that any surgery involves risk. Teens must have a realistic grasp of the risks and the limitations of plastic surgery.
It's also important to choose the right surgeon. A board-certified plastic surgeon can help give a realistic picture of what to expect (board-certified means the doctor has passed a stringent standard exam given by the governing board in their specialty). Cosmetic surgeries can also be performed by experienced and board-certified general surgeons, dermatologists, otolaryngologists (ear, nose, and throat specialists), and opthalmologists (eye doctors).
You should always ask a surgeon about:
- The surgeon's training
- How many procedures they have done
- How many are done annually
- What results have been
Don't be afraid to ask to speak to former teen patients, or to see "before and after" pictures from past cases.
What Are Common Plastic Surgery Procedures for Teens?
Some plastic surgery procedures, like breast enlargement, liposuction, and cheek implants are generally considered inappropriate for teens, except in unusual cases. But other procedures may be beneficial.
Let's look at some common plastic surgery procedures for teens:
- Rhinoplasty (nose reshaping or a nose job) is the most common cosmetic procedure requested by teens. The nose must have reached its adult size before surgery can be considered. The nose has usually finished growing by age 15 or 16 in girls, and age 16 or 17 in boys.
- Otoplasty (ear pinback) may be done after the age of about 5 or 6 years.
- Chin augmentation or reshaping the chin may be done during the teenage years.
- Breast asymmetry correction may be done when one breast is different from the other in size or shape.
- Breast reduction can benefit teen girls as young as age 15 who are embarrassed by very large breasts, or who are having shoulder pain, back pain, or breathing difficulty because of excessively large breasts.
- Gynecomastia is a procedure used to treat excessive breast development in male teens. Usually, this condition disappears on its own. But if the condition is severe, this procedure may be done.
- Laser treatment or dermabrasion (a sanding technique) may be used to smooth skin scarring caused by acne. Collagen or other filler injections are also sometimes used to repair skin defects. Other treatments for acne scars include intense pulse light, microneedling, chemical peels, radiofrequency, heating devices, photodynamic therapy, and treatment with low level light.
Things for Teens to Consider Before Plastic Surgery
The ASPS offers these guidelines for teens considering plastic surgery:
- The teen must initiate the request (rather than say, a parent) and must have realistic goals and expectations.
- The plastic surgeon should be experienced and board-certified in a specialty recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties, including the American Board of Plastic Surgery.
- The surgery should be done in an accredited surgical facility with the ability to handle rare complications.
- The surgery must be done under a policy of full, informed consent. That means the details of the procedure are understood and agreed to by the patient and the patient's parent or guardian.
Is Plastic Surgery Right For You?
Are you really a good candidate for plastic surgery? Here are some tips to help you decide:
- Don't expect plastic surgery to solve all your problems. Plastic surgery will not make you a different person.
- Plastic surgery won't make people like you. It won't make you popular in school.
- Although your looks can influence some of your success in life, they'll only get you so far. Strive to learn and improve yourself from within.
- There are downsides to everything. Be aware of the complications and risks of any surgery.
- If people judge you by your looks or clothes, they probably aren't true friends.
- Knowledge is power. After researching all of your options, you may realize you don't need plastic surgery. Perhaps a few pointers on the clothes you wear or some tips on how to be more outgoing may be all you need to feel confident about yourself.