Social Media

The scary truth about Instagram’s plastic surgery ads

By Kitty Knowles 1 September 2017

They aren't what they seem.

Women with glossy plump lips and breasts that defy gravity. Men with lean torsos, and sculpted buttocks.

If you’re on Instagram you’ve probably seen photo posts promising plastic surgery procedures that will transform your body and mind.

The majority of accounts making these promises are not top-notch certified surgeons, however.

They’re unqualified novices who shouldn’t bring a scalpel anywhere near your lovely face.

Scary promises

The fact is: most aesthetic surgery ads on Instagram are not posted by board certified-plastic surgeons, a new report in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal has found.

At best you might be being lured in by a physician with no accreditation for what they’re offering (gynecologists and emergency medicine doctors have been seen advertising cosmetic surgery procedures services for which they are not board certified).

At worst complete novices at hair salons, dentists, barbers, and spas – with no associated medical experts at all – are trying to lure you in.

The difference in training is vast: a board-certified plastic surgeon is a doctor with more than six years of surgical training and at least three years specifically in plastic surgery.

A ‘cosmetic surgeon’ might belong to any medical specialty, with training ranging from year-long fellowships to a handful of short weekend courses.

Your hairdresser is your hairdresser, and could have ‘trained’ off YouTube for all you know.

Young people at risk

The findings show ill-informed young people are being placed particularly at risk, say researchers from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“This is a very scary finding,” said the lead author Robert Dorfman. “Providers—ranging from physicians who are not licensed in plastic surgery to dentists, hair salon employees, and barbers—are doing procedures for which they do not have formal or extensive training.”

“That’s extremely dangerous for the patient.”

And the misleading marketing is already having a negative knock-on effect on patient health.

One report shows a nearing 300% increase in the number of complications for so-called ‘panniculectomies’ (removing a flap of loose skin from the tummy) when performed by non-plastic surgeons.

“The confusing marketing on social media is putting people at risk,” adds co-author Clark Schierle.

“There have been many recent reports of patient harm and deaths resulting from inexperienced providers offering services outside of their area of expertise.”

Who’s responsible?

While practitioners should not, of course, be offering procedures they are not qualified to do, all this does raise the question of whether Instagram should step in. The ads are using their service in a way that is endangers other users, after all.

Schierle, however, suggests that education is the way forward, encouraging qualified surgeons to share informative posts from their account, with popular hashtags.

“It is critical that board-certified plastic surgeons use social media like Instagram as a platform to educate patients about the risks of surgery,” Schierle says.

Right now, in the age of social media, the risks seem higher than ever.

The Memo has contacted Instagram to find out how they’ll deal with dangerous surgery ads. We will update this story in due course. 

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