Plastic Surgery: What Really Happens When You Go Under the Knife, Revealed

It’s not just celebrities who are seeking out face lifts, breast augmentations, and tummy tucks anymore. Now people from all walks of life are visiting plastic surgeons in the hopes of improving their appearance. In fact, in 2016 alone, USA Today reports Americans spent over $16 million on cosmetic plastic surgeries. This proves it’s becoming more accessible and affordable for everyone.

The most common plastic surgery procedure is a breast augmentation, with liposuction and nose reshaping close behind. But what’s it really like to go under the knife, and what can patients expect afterwards? We have the answers here.

Cosmetic surgery and plastic surgery are actually quite different

Scissors for surgeon

Cosmetic surgery and plastic surgery are not the same thing. |

Not everyone gets surgery just to look better — many others choose to go under the knife to regain function in certain areas of the body. As the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery says, cosmetic surgery involves one goal: enhancing appearance. Plastic surgery, however, typically involves reconstructing parts of the body damaged from trauma, burns, disease, or birth disorders.

Plastic surgery training differs greatly from cosmetic training, too. And any licensed physician can legally perform surgery of the cosmetic sort, no matter what sort of training they’ve actually had. Because of this, you absolutely must do your research on a doctor’s experience before choosing them for a procedure.

Doctors first show photos of what you can expect to look like afterwards

Close-up of surgeons hands holding surgical scissors and passing surgical equipment , motion blur background.

You will have a pretty good idea of how you will look after your procedure. |

Cosmetic and plastic surgeons will certainly do their best to correct what you want — but they certainly aren’t miracle workers. For this reason, during your consultation, your doctor will show you realistic photos of what you can expect to look like post-surgery.

As Arthur W. Perry, M.D., writes on Sharecare, the initial meeting is to discuss what you would like changed, the surgical (and potentially nonsurgical) ways your problem can be solved, and photos of other patients’ results. You’ll also get a rundown of all the pros and cons. Your doctor will also ask about your lifestyle and any supplements or medications you’re taking at the time, as these can have the potential to severely impact your recovery.

Certain weight-loss supplements must be stopped before surgery


You’ll have to hold off on your weight loss supplements for the time being. |

Both physical and mental preparations must occur prior to surgery. And there are certain medications that need to be stopped at least two weeks prior to surgery. Hormonal meds, like birth control, also need to be stopped in most cases, as hormones can increase the risk of blood clots during surgery, Desert Hills Plastic Surgery Center explains.

As far as mental prep goes, remember to keep a positive attitude. And those who have depression or any other mental illness should be aware that pain and stress can exacerbate their symptoms. Maintain a healthy lifestyle a few weeks before surgery, get your preoperative testing, and trust in your surgeon.

Some procedures can take up to 6 hours — and they’re not always single operations

surgeons working on patient

The procedure may take a lot longer than you expected. | MAHMOUD ZAYYAT/AFP/Getty Images

Some procedures take under an hour, while others can turn into an all-day affair. James Murphy, a plastic surgeon from Spire Manchester Hospital, tells sofeminine that certain procedures, such as facelifts, are incredibly involved. Some more complicated lifts often include eyelid surgery, fat grafting, and procedures around the neck — and overall, you can expect to be in surgery for five to six hours.

Tummy tucks and body lifts take the longest to heal

Plastic surgeon marking on woman's body.

You can expect a tummy tuck to take some time to heal. | iStock/Getty Images

If you’re looking to get some work done, planning for recovery time is crucial. For procedures like breast augmentations, arm lifts, and liposuction, doctors recommend taking a week off from work. More involved surgeries, like tummy tucks and body lifts, may put you out of your job for up to a month, says David B. Reath, M.D.

A good rule of thumb is to always plan for more time off than you think you’ll need.

And certain surgeries are incredibly dangerous

Surgeons working on patient

A lot of risks are being taken when you go under the knife. |

Thanks to medical advancements, it’s safer than ever to undergo cosmetic surgery. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know the risks. A body lift, for example, is one of the riskiest procedures because multiple plastic surgeries occur at once. Lifting the belly, thighs, buttocks, and genitals all at once means you’re under anesthesia for hours on end, which can impede recovery.

Liposuction also comes with a laundry list of risks, like possible perforations in the stomach wall and blood clots. And facial reconstruction, particularly around the jaw area, are extremely complex, making them difficult to perform.

Plastic surgery tourism is horrifying doctors everywhere

Airplane boarding passes, passport, travel, map

It is not wise to travel for plastic surgery. |

Undergoing these surgeries certainly isn’t cheap, which is why many flee the U.S. and seek out the same procedures in other countries for a lesser price.

This, of course, comes with many risks — and doctors in the U.S. are deeply concerned about this growing trend. As Dr. Teitelbaum tells The Cut, “There’s a reason it costs more here.” If you awaken in your hotel room with complications, you’re a far way from anyone who can help you through it.

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