In the age of hashtags, it’s easy to search Instagram for photos of a certain restaurant, an artist or pretty much any subject imaginable. More people, especially younger generations, are turning to the app for advice on more important decisions than what to eat for dinner—namely, choosing a cosmetic surgeon. Unsurprisingly, Instagram accounts are posting more content about cosmetic surgery to match the growing global demand, but surprisingly, many of the people behind the accounts are not qualified to administer the surgeries.
In a new study conducted at Northwestern University, researchers found that the better part of accounts advertising cosmetic surgery on Instagram are not board-certified plastic surgeons (this title signifies six years of surgical training, with three of those years spent practicing plastic surgery). Instead, many advertise themselves as “cosmetic surgeons,” a term that doesn’t carry nearly the same weight. So-called “cosmetic surgeons” need only complete a few short courses on how to perform surgeries like liposuction. Among the accounts flaunting the title, many are dentists, physicians or even barbers. According to multiple doctors at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine, the patients who undergo these surgeries often need corrective surgeries to fix the original botched ones.
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To investigate the suspicion that many of the popular Instagram photos advertising procedures aren’t reliable, researchers compiled the nine top posts from 21 hashtags related to cosmetic surgery and excluded duplicates and unrelated content, leaving them with 163 posts to analyze. Of these 163 posts, plastic surgeons with credentials that would qualify for membership in the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery accounted for only 29 posts, or about 17 percent. Nine of the accounts advertising aesthetic surgery weren’t even physicians; their professions ranged from dentist to hairstylist.
The bottom line is that even if content related to plastic surgery on Instagram seems credible, you’re still better off consulting a more source more reputable than a free-sharing platform. If you can’t help but scroll through the popular page to see pictures of results, look for clinical terms that you can imagine a doctor saying and avoid hashtags of overly colloquial terms like #boobjob. This type of slang is a red flag that the person posting is desperate for traffic and less concerned about ethical standards.
Furthermore, look for posts that aim to educate the reader about the risks of cosmetic surgery, not just sell a procedure: The researchers found that this educational content was more common among board-certified plastic surgeons (62 percent) than their counterparts (38 percent). At the end of the day, it may be best to use Instagram for the selfies and leave surgery consultation to the tried-and-true experts.
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