Many of us vow we’ll never tamper with what Mother Nature has given us, yet more of us are being lured by the promise that cosmetic procedures defy the ageing process. Although no formal figures are collected, the Australasian College of Cosmetic Surgery estimates that up to $1 billion is spent each year on cosmetic procedures, with an estimated 25,000 liposuctions, 16,000 breast surgeries, and 250,000 Botox and other injectable wrinkle treatments.
To coincide with this boom, it’s fair that we would expect a safe and tightly regulated industry. Yet when selecting a procedure and surgeon, buyer beware: the onus is on patients to check qualifications, to ask pointed questions and to shop around for a surgeon they can communicate with freely, says Merrilyn Walton, professor of medical education (patient safety) at the University of Sydney and chairperson of a 1999 NSW parliamentary inquiry into cosmetic surgery. “Cosmetic surgery is elective,” says Walton. “It’s sold as a product, which means there is greater responsibility on the patient to research and compare surgeons and procedures.”
The first port of call is a trusted GP. “Your family doctor is a great filter and is looking after your best interests,” says vice-president of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Steve Hambleton. A GP can help you decide whether you need surgery, work out which questions to ask your surgeon, and refer you to a reputable and well-trained practitioner.
Any doctor can perform cosmetic procedures without specialist training. “Someone straight out of medical school can put out a shingle saying ‘surgeon’,” says Sydney plastic and cosmetic surgeon Mark Kohout. Many become experienced in procedures, like breast augmentation and liposuction, but Fellows of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons have at least five years postgraduate training in plastic and reconstructive surgery, which gives them specialist status.