What happens when a new report comes out about an aspect of plastic surgery? New York City media outlets as well as journalists and bloggers around the world go on a feeding frenzy. That was the case when JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery, an online plastic surgery archive of the American Medical Association, published a study several days ago about facial plastic surgery effectiveness.
Performed in Toronto, the study was designed to measure whether facial plastic surgery makes patients look younger and more attractive. The results were splashed across online and broadcast media. Findings were said to indicate notions like these: facial plastic surgery doesn’t make people more attractive, it may disappoint patients and, in on at least one website, it doesn’t really work.
But what did the report really say? By applying some critical thinking, what can we learn?
The study involved 50 raters (unaware of the researchers’ goals) assessing photos of 49 facial cosmetic surgery patients. The raters were asked to evaluate each patient in terms of age and attractiveness. The fact that “years saved” only averaged about three and that attractiveness ratings did not improve touched off the storm of media hoopla.
Those ratings may not indicate what you assume they do.
What “years saved” means in this context is the difference between the patients’ actual ages and the ages the raters guessed they were. So, on average, the raters guessed the patients to be three years younger than they really were after their procedure, not to look three years younger than they looked before surgery.
It’s not accurate to say the study shows facial plastic surgery turns back the clock about three years, as many in the blogosphere suggest. It shows that these 49 patients now look three years younger than their actual age. What we don’t know is how old or young they looked before surgery—they may have looked 10 years older or even 10 years younger!
The raters were also asked to assign a 1-10 attractiveness score to each patient. In this case, scores before and after surgery were compared, and for the most part patients’ scores didn’t change.
In our view, this is not surprising at all. In fact, most plastic surgeons let patients know they should not expect surgery to alter their looks dramatically. Depending on the procedure, the goal may be to rejuvenate, re-sculpt or refine, not to transform someone into a completely different person.
In adding another point of view—and yet another voice in the midst of all the buzz—we are not trying to talk anyone into having facial plastic surgery, or to discourage people from reading every bit of information that’s published. We are happy more researchers are studying what plastic surgery can and can’t deliver, and we’re glad more information is being circulated.
Our hope is that those considering plastic surgery gather all the information they can find and evaluate it with a critical eye. Then, should a prospective patient elect a procedure, we also hope she or he will judge its success based on how they feel about the change, not how someone else might “rate” them.
Dr. Elliot Jacobs is an experienced, highly recognized New York plastic surgeon focusing on procedures for men. An innovator in his field. Dr. Jacobs has developed advanced techniques for correcting gynecomastia (enlarged male ‘breasts’) through liposuction, with a focus on comprehensive improvements from the chest to the waist area. He also provides surgical correction for men with overactive sweat glands through a minimally-invasive procedure that significantly reduces sweat production without eliminating it entirely.
A native New Yorker, Dr. Jacobs has served on the US Air Force and is an Honorary Police Surgeon for the New York City police Department. After earning his medical degree from Mount Sinai School of Medicine, he completed a General Surgery residency there as well, and received specialized training in plastic surgery techniques before ultimately earning the position of Chief Resident in Plastic Surgery. Dr. Jacobs is board-certified by the National Board of Medical Examiners and the American Board of Plastic Surgery; he is also a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, and a Fellow of both the American and the International Colleges of Surgeons.
Dr. Jacobs recognizes the challenges that men experience due to problems such as enlarged breast tissue and overactive sweat glands, and he enjoys working with his patients personally to help restore their appearance and help enable them to enjoy a more confident outlook. Dr. Jacobs is committed to the ongoing advancement of plastic surgery techniques, and is a Consultant in Plastic Surgery to the United Nations. A frequent contributor to national and local news sources, Dr. Jacobs is also on the attending staff of several New York area hospitals and is the author of Mantalk: Tips from the Pros for Great Looks, Good Health and Maintaining Your Competitive Edge