New Study Shows Editing Photos Linked to Plastic Surgery Acceptance—But Are Doctors on Board?

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Earlier this month, the JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery published a study that reported “increased acceptance of cosmetic facial surgery is associated with the use of certain social media and photo-editing applications.” 

More specifically, out of the 252 participants who were polled, 166 reported using photo-editing applications to make changes in photo lighting, and 13 reported using these applications to make changes in body or face shape. The overall results found that “participants who reported using specific applications, such as YouTube, Tinder, and Snapchat photograph filters, had an increased acceptance of cosmetic surgery; use of other applications, including WhatsApp and Photoshop, was associated with significantly lower self-esteem scores”—something the researchers say may help guide future patient-physician discussions regarding cosmetic surgery perceptions.

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The findings weren’t all that surprising to Palo Alto, CA facial plastic surgeon Jill Hessler, MD, who says she’s recently seen an uptick in patients coming in using filters or adjusting their photos so she can see exactly what they want—and she’s a fan. 

“In most instances, I actually find it helpful so we can have a realistic discussion of what is possible and what is not possible with surgical or minimally invasive treatments. It can be used as a version of the morphing software that is often used by facial plastic surgeons and plastic surgeons to give patients an idea of what surgical changes can provide. I find it helpful to look at these photos patients bring to the office because it gives me a greater understanding of their concerns and their goals. Sometimes, patients can’t articulate their concerns, but a photo can really help illustrate this to doctors.”

La Jolla, CA plastic surgeon Robert Singer, MD agrees that a picture really is “worth a thousand words” when it comes to cosmetic surgery, but he looks at the patient-selfie connection as being more suited for communication—not a concrete indicator of results.

“There are certainly great advantages to technology, but it’s not a secret that there is a growing demographic that has become addicted to selfies to the point of obsession,” he says, and points out that selfies can actually produce distorted views, something most selfie-centric users fail to realize. “Because of the angles they are taken at, the closeness of the subject, and the lighting, they can actually create asymmetries and distortion. They don’t often produce what other people see in reality.”

While it may go without saying, Dr. Singer also stresses there is no app that deals with the reality of healing time and factors like what tissue does with surgery. “It’s not totally realistic and it can be dangerous. You’re just not going to get that fast of a result.” 

And, as Eugene, OR plastic surgeon Mark Jewell, MD sums it up, “we all want to have a flawless selfie shot that shows an ageless face,” but it's even better when the "real world" reflects the same. “The actual results that patients can obtain from non-invasive treatments, neurotoxins and tissue fillers go a long way for millennials who like to take pictures of themselves. While editing of selfies may be a craze, patients want to look great in real life—all-day long—not only in selfies.”