As a former personal trainer, Sarah is passionate about all things health, beauty, and self care.
A Glimpse on Plastic Surgery and Modern Alternatives
Plastic surgery procedures have been around for decades and allowed many people to achieve dramatic and life-changing facial and body appearances. I also found out that most of the procedures are very invasive and are associated with prolonged recovery and unwanted side effects that can be as life-changing as the intended procedure itself. These negative accolades are also secondary to unnaturally looking results with "plastic", wax-like faces that are devoid of any expression or emotion. Media focus on celebrities and botched surgery outcomes has also contributed to a generally negative impression of this field that is only reserved for the rich and powerful.
Fast forward into 21st century and the most popular plastic surgery treatment is now a simple Botox injection that has been dubbed a lunchtime procedure. Advances in medical technology led to a tsunami of minimally invasive alternatives that produce outcomes similar to full surgical procedures. Don't get me wrong - there is still a wide array of aesthetic procedures requiring full surgical intervention, but luckily medical innovations have allowed for safer and less invasive approaches. These minimally and non-invasive therapies offer both patients and physicians safe alternatives that can accomplish the same results, without the surgery.
I wanted to explore these treatments more in-depth to see how they compare to their original surgical counterparts. Here’s what I found.
Lip filler injections are currently one of the most popular facial augmentation procedures. They date back to the early 1900s and started off with what is known as fat grafting. Fat grafting is a procedure in which fat is harvested from one part of the body (your belly) using liposuction, and then purified, and injected into another area (your lips). Unfortunately, fat transfers can be very risky with fat embolism being the most dangerous culprit, which is when fat enters the bloodstream and blocks blood vessels, resulting in tissue ischemia and even fatalities. In addition, fat injections often produce uneven and lumpy results that are irreversible unless the fat is surgically removed.
Today, lip fillers are much safer in that the primary compound used to inject the lips is typically a hyaluronic acid-based filler. Hyaluronic acid is naturally produced by the body and demonstrates complete biocompatibility with human tissues. These dermal fillers also come in many different formulations designed for various facial areas and can be individually tailored based on patients' aesthetic preferences and desires. An important safety feature of hyaluronic acid fillers is that they are fully dissolvable through the application of an enzyme hyaluronidase, which instantaneously reverses its effects.
If you plan on getting hyaluronic acid lip injections, be sure to do in-depth research on the person performing the procedure. Make sure they are placed by a skilled and board-certified professional. There are some DIY devices that promise lip enhancements through the utilization of a needle-free pressurized "pen" to press the filler into your skin. While this may sound appealing, it is actually quite dangerous as described by many medical professionals.
Gluteal (butt) augmenation
Gluteal or but enhancements have also become immensely popular over the course of the past 15 years fueled in part by social media and celebrities. The appeal of a full and curvy butt extends across all cultures and continents. It also turns out that there are currently two accepted ways in the medical community to improve the appearance of the gluteal region. Let's look at them side by side and see which one has the best risk/benefit ratio and the most effective and safe profile.
Brazilian Butt Lift (BBL)
One of the most famous surgical butt enhancements is Brazilian Butt Lift (BBL), which uses the fat grafting technique to transfer fat from one part of the body - usually the abdomen, thighs, and arms - to another part of the body, namely, the buttocks. BBL's popularity is based on immediate and drastic increase in the size of one's butt. It allows creating an hourglass shape in a matter of hours without an exhausting workout routine. While this sounds ideal, BBL fat transfers have a long list of established risks and side effects. The most common complaints include a long recovery period and uneven fat distribution a few months after the procedure leading to butt asymmetry with visible and unappealing lumps. It is further compounded by a 3% mortality rate, making it the most deadly plastic surgery procedure.
Sculptra Butt Lift
To avoid the risks of the aforementioned interventions, many people are opting for a relatively new, but safe and effective non-surgical counterparts: Sculptra butt lifts and Radiesse butt lifts. Sculptra (Poly-L-lactic acid) and Radiesse (Calcium Hydroxylapatite) are both injectable dermal fillers that are commonly used to increase the size of a patient's buttocks. Both compounds work by stimulating the body’s own collagen production, which creates tissue volume over time.
Radiesse has instant results upon injection and increases the buttocks only slightly in volume over time, while Sculptra results take about 1 - 2 months to start showing, but can add significant volume over the course of a few months. The outcomes depend on the patient’s original shape as well as the number of treatments they are getting. Both fillers have excellent safety profiles and both require a certain period of time to see the difference in shape and volume.
Minimally invasive facelifts
PDO Thread Lift
While surgical facelifts are still common practice, for those interested in a less invasive approach, the non surgical alternative is a PDO thread lift. A PDO (polydioxanone) thread lift can be used in all the same areas as a traditional facelift and works through the insertion of very thin barbed threads made of the same material as surgical sutures.
Once inserted, the threads are carefully pulled upward along with the skin, and the skin is held in place by the barbs attached to the threads. Risks and side effects have been said to include bruising and swelling, puckering of the lifted skin, as well as the possibility of nerve damage if performed incorrectly.
My mother has had both a facelift and a PDO thread lift (years later) and found that the recovery time from a thread lift was much more tolerable. While her surgical face lift results did last longer, she appreciated the simplicity of the PDO thread procedure and the fact that she didn’t have to undergo another surgical procedure. She did mention that PDO threads would probably be better for someone who has mild sagging, based on her doctor’s opinion.
An even less invasive approach to lifting the skin of the face is a liquid facelift. A liquid facelift involves various forms of dermal fillers.
Dermal fillers are used to add volume to certain areas of the face to create a fuller, more youthful appearance. The most commonly used dermal fillers for the face are hyaluronic acid based fillers, which are lubricating polysaccharides naturally produced by the body for smooth gliding along the joints. The results last 6 - 12 months and can be reversed using hyaluronidase, if necessary.
I have personally had a few dermal fillers injected, including my jawline and under eyes. Because I’m 25, I don’t really need a surgical face lift, but definitely felt I looked more awake and refreshed, especially after getting rid of the dark circles under my eyes using an under eye filler.
Common areas injected with dermal filler for a liquid face lift include:
- The under eyes (tear troughs) to eliminate dark circles
- The cheeks
- The smile lines (nasolabial folds)
- The marionette lines (folds that run from the corners of your mouth down your chin
- The chin
- The jawline (for definition and reduction in mildly loose skin)
- The forehead
- The temples
- The lips
Contouring and shaping procedures
In surgical rhinoplasties a physician makes incisions within the nostrils and sometimes across the base of the nose. Depending on the patient’s desired result, the inner bone and cartilage are reshaped using a scalpel and a surgical instrument called an osteotome.
While surgical rhinoplasties are safe and effective, not everyone feels comfortable undergoing surgical procedures, especially with the risk of unwanted permanent results.
For those who don’t have concerns that require surgical intervention, an injectable liquid rhinoplasty may be an option. Injectable rhinoplasties typically are used to contour the nose or even out a bumpy bridge through the injection of hyaluronic acid based dermal fillers. While there are other dermal fillers available, hyaluronic acid based fillers are typically preferred because of their proven safety profile.
When it comes to jaw and chin implants, which are still utilized in some cases, most cases do not warrant the need for a surgical implant when it comes to shaping the jawline. Implants are foreign materials in the body, meaning that they do pose a risk for infection and migration in which case they would have to be surgically removed.
If only minor adjustments need to be made, dermal fillers can be used to add volume and definition to a patient’s chin and jawline. The type of filler to be used is chosen by the physician on a case by case basis but typically lies between a dense hyaluronic acid based filler or Radiesse. Both types of fillers are safe and typically accepted by the body with very little risk of infection or other side effects and complications. Based on the type of filler used, the results can last anywhere from 6 months to 2 years.
Injectable jawline contouring can be used to create a more defined jawline, correct asymmetry, or elongate the chin for a more attractive profile.
Liposuction and alternatives for fat reduction
Liposuction is a common method used to eliminate unwanted fat by surgically inserting a tube into the area of concern and virtually sucking the fat out of it. While this does work, the treatment itself is invasive and involves 2 - 4 weeks of post surgical downtime in which you are unable to engage in your typical everyday activities.
Fortunately, medical technology has allowed for a much less invasive alternative: Cryolipolysis.
Cryolipolysis (also known as CoolSculpting) is a non-invasive treatment for fat elimination and is derived from the Greek roots (cryo, meaning cold, lipo, meaning fat, and lysis meaning dissolution) and uses advanced freezing technology to freeze fat cells in the treated area without damaging any of the surrounding tissue or skin. During your treatment, a vacuum applicator will be placed on the area of concern, which sucks in your fat and freezes it over the course of 35 minutes.
After I tried Coolsculpting I saw results in 2 months since my body took some time to metabolize the dead fat cells. Side effects were minor and included minor bruising, swelling, and numbing sensations, which subsided within 2 - 3 weeks. After I measured my waist I was shocked to see that I lost 2 inches of fat in just 1 session!
You don't need surgery to get your ideal body
Through personal experience and research, it became clear that I don't need to undergo invasive surgeries to get the body or face I always wanted. In many cases, all that is required is an hour-long visit to a specialist to address my aesthetic concerns. Most of the above-mentioned treatments are safe and effective, though some of them do not leave you with permanent results. For most people, however, getting the same minimally invasive treatment every few months to years is preferred over the downtime and risks that come with plastic surgery.