Cosmetic surgery is usually chosen by people who are unhappy with the way a certain part of their body looks. They turn to cosmetic surgery to improve their physical appearance and to boost their self-image.

Reconstructive surgery, which has a longer history than cosmetic surgery, corrects a physical deformity or dysfunction (e.g., a cleft palate) or repairs damage done by an injury or previous surgeries (e.g., mastectomy). Reconstructive surgery is generally covered by health insurance, whereas cosmetic surgery is usually not covered.

Together, cosmetic and reconstructive surgeries fall under the larger umbrella of plastic surgery.

The perception of cosmetic surgery (also known as aesthetic surgery) has definitely taken a positive turn, and it's becoming more acceptable for people to be open about their choice to alter their appearance. Nowadays, you can turn the television on during prime time any night of the week to watch reality shows that follow the average Joe through some process of physical transformation. Some procedures are major, such as liposuction, and some take no longer than 30 minutes at the doctor's office, such as Botox® injections. It is no longer frowned upon to want to adjust and enhance what Mother Nature has given you. Some may even say it is a necessity for success.

There is an increasing trend to give plastic surgery as a gift, for couples to get cosmetic surgery together, and even for people to travel abroad for plastic surgery vacation packages, also referred to as medical tourism. However, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) warns that travelling abroad for plastic surgery can be risky – you may not get a qualified surgeon or an accredited facility, and you may be more at risk of complications.

What people are looking for

Internationally, the most frequently performed cosmetic procedures include breast augmentation, liposuction, eyelid surgery, and rhinoplasty (nose reshaping).

Cosmetic surgery has traditionally been viewed as something mostly women did, but men are now also choosing it to improve self-image – cosmetic surgery for men accounts for almost 13% of procedures. Men aim to maintain and regain their youthful look and to achieve a toned-looking body. To achieve these results, men may choose procedures such as nose surgery, eyelid surgery, breast reduction, and liposuction.

For women, liposuction, nose reshaping, and breast augmentation have been 3 of the most popular cosmetic surgical procedures performed worldwide, beating each other out for the top spot every now and then. For men, the most popular procedures include liposuction, nose reshaping, and eyelid surgery. The popular non-surgical procedures (among men and women combined) are Botox® injectible fillers, and laser hair removal.


20 to 30 years ago, the process of removing fatty deposits in certain areas of the body, where exercise and diet were insufficient, required major surgery. These surgeries also came with a fair amount of risk of complications. However, with the invention of liposuction techniques in the 1980s, removing difficult fatty deposits became easier and safer.

Liposuction (lipoplasty) is generally performed on the abdomen, stomach, arms, hips, legs, or under the chin. But with different techniques and advancements in the technology, parts of the body such as the knees and ankles that used to be considered difficult to treat with liposuction are now accessible. Liposuction is not meant to be a solution for losing weight. It is meant to contour certain target areas of the body.

In general, this procedure involves flushing the targeted area with a solution containing lidocaine (an anesthetic), saline, and epinephrine (to reduce bleeding), followed by the insertion of a hollow, tubular device that works like a vacuum to suction out the fatty deposits from the body. If you are considering this procedure, it is important that you find out what techniques your cosmetic surgeon will use. You should be aware of the risks and complications involved, such as infection, scarring, skin changes, and reactions to anesthesia. It would also help to know how and where the procedure will be performed. Ask about recovery time as well.

Nose reshaping

We've all seen before-and-after photos of people who have gotten a nose job, and in some cases, the change in nose shape can make a significant difference to the way a person looks and consequently feels.

Nose reshaping (rhinoplasty) is a procedure that is requested often for cosmetic purposes. Rhinoplasty is also used for reconstructive purposes to fix birth defects or trauma to the nose.

During the consultation session, the cosmetic surgeon will sit down with you and discuss what you hope to achieve with the surgery. They'll also discuss what is possible for you and whether or not your expectations are realistic. The surgical procedure itself takes about 1 to 2 hours. The surgeon will separate the layer of skin from the nose before shaping and contouring the bone and cartilage to what is desired. The skin will then be pulled and stitched back onto the newly sculpted nose.

There are varying techniques for this procedure, which depends on your surgeon's preference and specialty as well as the look you're trying to achieve. If you are a teenager, your doctor might suggest that you wait a few years before getting this surgery to ensure that you have stopped growing and that you are certain the surgery is what you want.

Common side effects include swelling and bruising of the face, which will subside during the healing process. Healing takes time, and the final result of this procedure may take a year or longer. Be sure to talk to your surgeon about the risks involved (such as numbness, nose bleeds, swelling, or nerve damage) with this or any surgical procedure.

Breast augmentation

Over the past few decades, this procedure has been the subject of many controversies and much fascination.

For breast augmentation, the procedure involves inserting an implant into the desired position, which depends on the look you are going for as well as what your surgeon recommends. Implants are considered medical devices, so they must be approved by Health Canada.

There are several different types of breast implants, such as saline or silicone gel. It's important that you know which type of implant would be used for you, especially if you are traveling abroad for this procedure. Countries other than Canada may not have the same safety standards for breast implants. As with any surgical procedure, breast augmentation is associated with risks (e.g., bleeding) and complications (e.g., infection). Talk to your surgeon about these risks before you decide on implants. Keep in mind that breast implants will not last forever - they will likely need to be replaced at some time. You will also need to have your implants checked regularly by your doctor.

If you are considering breast augmentation, consult a cosmetic surgeon to see if this procedure is right for you.

What you need to do before getting cosmetic surgery

It is easy to get caught up in the glitz and glamour of the end result of a cosmetic procedure. However, if you or someone you know is considering cosmetic surgery, it is important to remember that any surgery is real surgery, and with it comes risks and benefits that you should be informed about.

While cosmetic surgery can be a positive experience, it can be devastating if you fall into the hands of an inexperienced or unqualified surgeon. In Canada, any doctor can call himself or herself a cosmetic surgeon, including a dermatologist and a dentist. A cosmetic surgeon may have extensive non-surgical experience but no actual experience in surgery. However, only a doctor with a Certificate in Plastic Surgery from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada can call himself or herself a plastic surgeon. You can verify your surgeon's certification by contacting your provincial college of physicians and surgeons or the Canadian Society of Plastic Surgeons.

Do your research

Here are a set of safety guidelines put together by the Canadian Society of Plastic Surgeons to help you select the surgeon that is right for you:

  • Ensure your surgeon is qualified by choosing a member of the Canadian Society of Plastic Surgeons.
  • Confirm the surgeon's credentials and medical licence with your provincial college of physicians and surgeons, and check for any disciplinary action or lawsuits associated with their practice.
  • Ask your surgeon how much experience they have performing the procedure and what their complication rate is.
  • Confirm with the hospital that the surgeon has hospital privileges.
  • Find out if the person giving the anesthesia is qualified.
  • Ask to see pictures of real patients the surgeon has operated on.
  • Understand what the recovery from surgery is like.

Do not let price be the deciding factor when you are selecting the surgeon to perform the procedure. Take the right precautions and do not cut corners to get the results that you want.

Most people considering cosmetic surgery want to improve their physical appearance. The final result is very important. Find a surgeon who understands your specific needs to ensure a positive experience and satisfactory results.

Find the right surgeon for you

So what should you look for in a surgeon? When you arrive for your consultation, consider the following:

  • Does the surgeon carefully explain in detail the risks and possible outcomes of surgery?
  • Does the surgeon talk to you about whether or not you are a good candidate for the procedure you're requesting? If you're not a good candidate, does the surgeon suggest alternatives?
  • Does he or she ask about your medical history?
  • Does the surgeon leave the decision to have surgery to you or do you feel pressured to get the procedure?
  • Does he or she answer questions so that you understand?
  • Is he or she open to questions about professional qualifications, experience, cost, and any other questions you have?

Also, make a list of all the questions you want to ask before going to your appointment. Here are a few to start you off:

  • Are there other options available to me in addition to this procedure?
  • How many times (or for how many years) have you performed the same procedure(s) I'm considering?
  • What are the risks and complications involved with this procedure?
  • How long is the recovery period? Will I need to take time off work?
  • Do you provide follow-up care after the procedure?
  • How do you handle surgical revisions if they are needed?
  • Will you be performing the surgery?
If the surgeon is uncomfortable with your questions and doesn't answer them to your satisfaction, you always have the right to get a second opinion or to look for another surgeon.

Is the end result of cosmetic surgery worth the trouble?

The recovery process

It's unrealistic to expect that you will see results right after surgery. The reality is there will be a period of recovery, and that timeframe depends on what procedure was performed. Be patient for the result and, just as with any other surgery, make plans to ensure a smooth recovery. This can include things such as:

  • having a support team to help you with daily tasks, especially in the days immediately following surgery
  • avoiding strenuous exercise and opting for leisurely walks instead – ask your surgeon what he or she recommends
  • planning with your employer to take a few days off work to recuperate following surgery, if needed
  • expecting that the swelling and bruising will take time to heal before results can be seen
  • arranging for someone else to drive for you while you are on medications for pain

Going through the recovery period can be physically and emotionally draining. Some even experience post-operative depression. Give yourself time to adjust to your new body. With some procedures, the final result may not be apparent until one year after surgery.

It is important to follow your doctor's instructions carefully about how to take care of yourself during the healing process to avoid infections and other complications. Infections may occur more frequently in people who go overseas to have cosmetic surgery done. If you overexert yourself, the price of your cosmetic procedure might be more than just monetary.

Is cosmetic surgery right for you?

So, is it worth all the trouble to go under the knife? This is a question that's been on many psychologists' and researchers' minds. In an effort to make sense of it all, many studies have been conducted to understand what goes on in a person's psyche and whether the end justifies the means. Most people adjust well after cosmetic surgery, but some do not. There are still lots of questions about how cosmetic surgery affects people psychologically and more research is needed to get the answers.

Keep in mind that even after cosmetic surgery, your body will continue to change over time. The positive self-image that was found with surgery might gradually deteriorate.

Still, Canadians spend over half a billion dollars each year on cosmetic surgery. But important questions remain: What are the consequences of cosmetic surgery? Does it really improve a person's self-esteem and their image of themselves? Is it always a happily-ever-after scenario?

Experienced surgeons know that it is not always happily-ever-after. In fact, they know that not everyone is emotionally and mentally prepared to handle a body-altering procedure. This is a necessary assessment, because someone who is not a good candidate can have unrealistic expectations of cosmetic surgery, resulting in varying degrees of disappointment after surgery.

People who aren't good candidates for cosmetic surgery are to those who:

  • are looking for an unrealistic personal standard of perfection
  • are very harsh on themselves and difficult to please
  • have mental illness
  • are going through a life crisis such as divorce or death of a spouse
  • obsesses over one minor area of their body (i.e., have body dysmorphic disorder, or BDD)

Someone with BDD has a distorted view of their body. They will tend to focus on a specific aspect or part of their body and become obsessive over it. Cosmetic surgery may not improve their overall sense of self - in some cases, it might make things worse.

On the other hand, a good candidate for a cosmetic procedure is someone who already possesses a good self-image, but is dissatisfied with a certain part of their body that can be improved through surgery. Other good candidates include people who have a concern such as a physical defect that has slowly reduced their self-image over time. These two groups are good candidates because they go into the procedure with realistic expectations, and they generally have a more positive experience.

There are many ways you can improve a trouble area on your body. Makeup, clothing, and even a fresh haircut can boost your self-image. Exercise is another great way to feel better about your body.

Ultimately, the decision to choose cosmetic surgery is a very personal one. This decision requires much consideration, research, and consultation. It is not a choice that should be made hastily and emotionally. Just because it seems like everyone is doing it doesn't mean that it is right for you. If in doubt, there is no harm in waiting.