By Michael Rosenberg, MD
It’s amazing how obsessed our culture seems to be with all things plastic surgery. There has been a fascination with the procedures, the people undergoing the procedures, their motivations and even with the practitioners themselves. My own favorite was the television series “NIP/TUCK,” but that’s only the surface. “Extreme Makeover” (not the home edition),” Dr. 90210” and other reality shows have all had their day in the sun and many movies deal with plastic surgery or surgeons. As for popular literature, the latest best-seller I am reading, Vince Flynn’s “The Last Man,” has a subplot of a spy completely changing his identity through plastic surgery.
But popular culture aside, where can we look for real information about plastic surgery, the procedures and the surgeons?
Although there are many self-help books on the subject available, the discerning reader might be better served taking a closer look at source material. Specifically, there is an unbelievable amount of information available online on the topic of plastic surgery and anyone with an interest in the topic should begin his investigations here. Generally speaking, there are four different sources of material to investigate. There are some general governmental agencies that provide information and that can be a good place to start. Each of the major surgical societies can be a source of information, and almost all of them have a section with information (and often photographs) specifically directed towards the public. The third major source of information are the different companies that make the products, from lasers to fillers, that play such an important role in modern plastic surgery (and which we have been writing about for the past two years).
Always keeping in mind the bias of the source. But the companies can often be a wealth of information (plus, the material on their sites is subject to review by government agencies, such as the FDA). Finally, there is the information available from consumers themselves, other people who may have gone through the very same procedures you are considering. Before sharing some specific information about these different sources, however, let me share a caution: Caveat Emptor or “Let the buyer beware.” Always be mindful of the source of the material you are looking at, try to get at the same information from several different sources and remember that information can be a commodity, too.
Among its other duties, the FDA, or Federal Drug Administration, is charged with regulating medical devices, which include everything from the lasers we use for hair removal or resurfacing, to the implants we use in breast augmentation or reconstruction after cancer. Both manufacturers and the physician community have to present data to the FDA on the safety and efficacy of the devices we use, and much of this information is readily available to the public. The website of interest here is fda.gov. There are links there to much of the research material behind its findings, if you are inclined to a more technical read. Another good government site for links to current research is the National Institutes of Health, available at nih.gov. Although neither site is specifically designed for sharing information with the layperson, the information can help guide your research. The next stops I recommend on your reading list are the professional society websites.
The American Society of Plastic Surgeons was founded in 1931 and is the organization representing board-certified plastic surgeons in the United States. Its website, plasticsurgery.org, has sections, including news and resources, information (and pre- and post-operative photographs) about the procedures we do and links to other information sources. The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, founded in 1967, focuses on those plastic surgery procedures that are directed at cosmetic (as opposed to reconstructive) surgery and can be found at surgery.org. A good source for information on laser procedures can be found at aslms.org, the website of the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery. These are all good starting points and have links to additional sources as well.
For information about specific devices or products, the companies that manufacture the products we use are all sources. For the Thermage device, thermage.com is an interesting site. For implants, the two big manufacturers are Mentor Corporation at mentorwwllc.com and Allergan at allergan.com. (Since Allergan also makes Botox and Juvaderm, there is plenty to see on this site). Medicis, the maker of Restylane and Dysport, has a site at medicis.com. They were recently purchased by Valeant, the maker of Sculptra (Valeant.com). Another good source is Merz, the maker of Radiesse, at Merz.com. There are many others as well, but this listing should give you a good start to most of the different products we commonly use (and have written about in this column).
The consumer sites include those that are specifically designed to pass information on to consumers, bypassing the professional societies and the manufacturers. One good one is Realself.com, which posts questions and photos from the public for its plastic surgeon members to then answer. It can be interesting to see the perspective of multiple surgeons. This site is just one of many that provide similar information. There are also multiple consumer rating sites, but as mentioned previously, be aware that the information on these sites is not always accurate and should only be part of your research.
Finally, I do get some inquiries from my readers and I would be happy to discuss your questions or issues at any time.
Please send any questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.