Guide to cosmetic surgery

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Many people in Australia consider undergoing cosmetic surgery to improve how they feel about their appearance. It can be confusing when you look at all the different information about cosmetic surgery and try to understand what is best for you. This article provides what you need to know and the questions you need to ask.

What is cosmetic surgery?

Cosmetic surgery is undertaken to change the appearance of an otherwise healthy part of a body. The surgery is done because a person believes it will improve their appearance, not for a medical reason.

Reconstructive surgery differs from cosmetic surgery in that it is designed to restore the appearance or function of a part of the body, such as after an accident or trauma, cancer, birth defect or disease.

Who can perform cosmetic surgery?

Cosmetic surgery can be carried out either by plastic surgeons or by cosmetic surgeons.

Plastic surgeons can also do reconstructive surgery for people whose bodies have suffered damage in some way.

What is the difference between plastic surgeons and cosmetic surgeons?

There is a significant difference between cosmetic surgeons and plastic surgeons.

To become a plastic surgeon, a doctor must – after they qualify as a doctor – undergo at least another 5 years of training and study through the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS). This lets them obtain a specialist qualification recognised by the Australian Government.

By contrast, any doctor can call themselves a cosmetic surgeon – without any further training after their initial medical training or any specialist qualification. It is legal for any doctor to perform many cosmetic surgery procedures.

Speak to your GP before you have cosmetic surgery

You should speak to your GP before undergoing cosmetic surgery, since your GP is best placed to help you manage your overall health. If cosmetic surgery is an option for you, your GP can help you to plan cosmetic surgery safely and find a suitable surgeon.

Questions to ask before you have cosmetic surgery

There are many things to consider before you decide to have surgery of any kind. After you have spoken with your GP, you should consider asking your surgeon some general questions about what is involved and what are the risks, both of the surgery and the anaesthetic.

You should also consider asking your doctor some more specific questions if you are considering cosmetic surgery, such as:

What are your qualifications?How many times have you performed this procedure before, and how often do you do it?What are the risks of this procedure?How many people have experienced complications when you have performed this procedure and what were they?Are there any alternative options to this procedure?What kind of anaesthetic will I be given, and who will be giving it? What qualifications do they have?What care will I need after the procedure and who will be giving it?What will it cost and what do those costs cover?

You can also use the Question Builder tool to create your question list for the appointment. Prepare your list, then print or email it so you remember what you want to ask.

Body image and cosmetic surgery

There is a great deal of pressure placed on how we look. From an early age, the media and people around us help form the image we have of our bodies. In Australia, women with thin bodies are often described as being attractive; athletic men are often referred to as handsome.

These kinds of images are common in magazines, newspapers and online. But they do not reflect the bodies of most people, and this can lead to having unrealistic expectations and low self-esteem.

It is important to reflect upon your reasons for wanting cosmetic surgery. It might help to think about:

Who am I having the procedure for? Is it for myself or am I trying to make myself more attractive to someone else?Have I understood what is involved? It might be more helpful to speak to a person who has had the procedure rather than to read a brochure.Have I discussed it with a friend or family member?Have I been influenced by advertising or a low advertised price?Have I considered alternatives to cosmetic surgery?

Alternatives to cosmetic surgery

You should think carefully about other options before deciding to undergo cosmetic surgery.

In some instances, non-surgical skin treatments and injectable fillers can be used for cosmetic purposes. There may be other ways to enhance your appearance or improve your self-esteem. There are also non-surgical alternatives to improving your appearance, such as exercise and diet programs.

How to choose a qualified surgeon

The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) has a register of qualified medical practitioners in Australia.

You can search the AHPRA database for a particular doctor by name to see whether the doctor is a specialist plastic surgeon. If your doctor is not a specialist plastic surgeon, they may still be able to do cosmetic surgery. However, you need to understand that they do not have the same qualifications as a specialist.

The AHPRA register will also tell you if your doctor is facing any serious disciplinary action.

The Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons has a list of all qualified specialist plastic surgeons in Australia. The Australasian College of Cosmetic Surgery also has lists of people who practise cosmetic surgery – but not all of them are qualified specialist surgeons.

Considering cosmetic surgery overseas?

Some people consider having cosmetic surgery overseas because it may cost less than in Australia. However, there may be many problems with this. For example, it can be very difficult to get good information about the qualifications and experience of a doctor in another country.

Australia has a reliable national registry of doctors and plastic surgeons. Also, if you are having a procedure close to home, you can ask to see the facilities where the surgery will be undertaken, before you have the surgery. And it is easier to contact the person who performed the surgery afterwards if you have any problems during your recovery and to visit your GP if necessary.


Australian Health Ministers' Advisory Council (Cosmetic medical and surgical procedures: A national framework), Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons (About specialist plastic surgeons), Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons (Essential Questions for Your Specialist Plastic Surgeon), Australasian College of Cosmetic Surgery (Patient information brochure), Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons(ASPS media resource folder), Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency(Register of practitioners), Australasian Foundation for Plastic Surgery (Non-surgical procedures), Australasian College of Cosmetic Surgery (The College)

Last reviewed: August 2017


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