Surprise, Surprise!

Do we need a scientific study to tell us that cosmetic surgery can make us appear a little younger?  Yes, we do!  Many women choose cosmetic surgery in their pursuit of the fountain of youth, but many surgeons also hesitate to tell their patients just how much younger they may appear.  Instead they speak more tentatively about creating a “more youthful and more refreshed” appearance—in part because it is so important for surgeons and patients to establish realistic expectations for the results of the surgery.  In this field, surgeons rely heavily on patient satisfaction to judge the success of a procedure.

A new study published in February 2012 in the Archives of Facial Plastic Surgery set out to quantify just how many years cosmetic surgery can erase.  For the study, researchers collected 60 before and after photos of men and women between the ages of 45 and 72 who had undergone some type of cosmetic surgery.  One group of patients had facelifts and neck lifts, the second group also had upper and lower eyelid surgery, and the third group had facelifts, neck lifts, eyelid surgery, and forehead lifts. 

A group of 40 volunteer first-year medical students then viewed the pictures and estimated the ages of each patient.  Overall, the viewers guessed that the patients were 1.7 years younger than they actually were prior to the surgery.  They estimated that the patients were 8.9 years younger than their true age after the surgery.  The more surgeries a patient had, the younger they tended to look.  Patients who had only had facelifts appeared about 5.7 years younger, whereas patients who had undergone all three types of procedures appeared 8.4 years younger.

A drawback of the study is that all of the patients had been operated on by only one surgeon.  We can only assume that further studies involving more surgeons and a greater variety of procedures will be forthcoming.

Looking Good, Feeling Good

One plastic surgeon explained that having multiple, subtle cosmetic procedures makes a more dramatic impact because it creates tiny differences all over the face, instead of in just one area.  The authors of the study concluded that even though cosmetic surgeries are not considered medically essential, they help to satisfy an inborn longing to remain young and attractive.  Thus, they can have a powerfully positive effect on one’s psychological and social well-being.

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Although this study did not address breast implants or breast lifts, women frequently choose these procedures in an effort to maintain a youthful appearance.   After all, firm perky breasts are associated with youth, while soft, droopy breasts are the fate of older women.  What this study does show is that observers tend to accurately guess the ages of patients who have not had cosmetic surgery, and they are statistically inclined to misjudge the age of patients who have had cosmetic surgery (just as we suspected!).  Moreover, unlike facial plastic surgery, breast lifts and implants also give women the confidence they need to wear younger clothing and swimwear styles—an added bonus!