Cosmetic surgery on the rise but caution advised

Model Gemma Garrett got breast implants when she was 25 — they had to be removed after they reptured.

“Should I get Botox before my wedding?” asks a 29-year-old bride-to-be.

“I’ll definitely get my boobs done in a few years when gravity starts to win”, says a 31-year-old living in Dublin.

Another woman describes her breast augmentation like ‘getting your tonsils out’ — she is 26 years old.

Today, it seems when young women don’t like something about their face or body, the solution is no longer make-up or a push up bra, it’s getting ‘work done’.

It’s difficult to know how many Irish women are having cosmetic procedures (such as face lifts, breast augmentation and liposuction) or non-surgical interventions (Botox, dermal fillers, lip enhancements) every year. Yet ask a friend, colleague or family member if they know someone who has had any cosmetic work done this answer will most likely be yes.

Ask a woman in her 20s or 30s if they would ever consider having Botox or fillers, and it will almost certainly be yes.

Plastic and reconstructive surgeon and secretary for the Irish Association of Plastic Surgeons (IAPS), Dr Peter Meagher says the cosmetics surgery sector has been depressed since the recession hit, although there has been some change in the last six months.

Yet while traditional surgeries might be stagnating, it’s boom time for non-surgical interventions and treatments like Botox, and lip enhancements — procedures that appeal to a younger image-conscious generation.

Instead of expensive and invasive facelifts, women in their 20s and 30s are using injectibles as quick, cost-effective solutions to looking good. Accessibility is a key factor too, with clinics springing up on the main streets, allowing women to have Botox on their lunchbreak.

Non-surgical interventions are also more affordable. One young woman who had a breast augmentation in her 20s compared it to buying a small secondhand car — an investment you could pay off in six months.

While many doctors and clinics are hesitant to give out prices, the average cost in Ireland for the most popular procedure in the country, a breast augmentation, costs upwards of €5,000, more if an uplift is needed, and tend to attract the 30-plus age group. For dermal fillers, lip enhancements and Botox, prices range from €200 upward and women as young as 21 are investing.

A younger clientele has started to make enquiries about non-surgical treatments at Therapie Clinics.

“We are seeing younger and younger patients looking for preventative treatment — some think their lines and wrinkles are worse than they appear to be,” says Dr Mark Hamilton from Thérapie Clinic.

“Young people now take a lot of time with their appearance and are better educated about the ageing and damaging effects of the sun.”

The youngest patient Dr Mark Hamilton from Thérapie Clinic has treated was a 21- year-old with severe frown lines. It was an exception. “We almost never treat someone under the age of 25,” he says.

Not everyone is offered treatment. When dealing with women in their 20s, Dr Hamilton recites three fundamentals: stop smoking, reduce sun exposure and use an SPF.

For those who go on to get work done, most will opt for minimal improvements. “Many younger women ask for the treatment to be done in such a way that it’s not obvious,” says Dr Hamilton.

The increase in demand for non-surgical treatments is sometimes attributed to the influence of celebrities and reality TV stars that have made cosmetic surgery part of the norm.

Surveys on young girls attitudes bear this out, showing 62% of girls aged 11 to 16 say they feel some pressure to look the way celebrities do.

One episode of reality show The Only Way is Essex centres around a Botox party, where the cast of 20-somethings discuss recent boob jobs, pop upstairs for Botox and chat about getting their lips and teeth done to achieve the ‘racehorse’ look. Stateside, the most recent TV surgery shock story was when The Hills’ Heidi Montag had 10 procedures in one day including neck liposuction, buttock and breast augmentation at the age of 23.

Lorraine O’Riordan manager of Arasys, a salon specialising in non-surgical aesthetic procedures in Cork, says 21 to 23-year-olds come in looking for laser skin treatments, liposuction and lip enhancement.

“We don’t encourage people in their early 20s to have Botox for cosmetic reasons, unless they had a medical condition like sweating or headaches,” she says, adding that women who are too young looking to get “their lips puffed up” have been turned away.

Her advice is to wait. What many younger women who are interested in cosmetic enhancements may not realise is that in an industry — worth an estimated £2.3bn in Britain in 2010, where non-surgical interventions account for more than nine in 10 of all procedures performed — the industry is still totally unregulated. Anyone who qualifies as a doctor, including dentists, can set up a cosmetic clinic offering anything from a tummy tuck to a boob job, even if they have never done a cosmetic procedure before in their life.

Younger clients are more likely to be taken in by the hard-sell tactics that some clinics use. “It’s very hard to get away once you contact them, and they have very sharp financial practices,” warns Dr Meagher.

However, strides are being made in Britain to protect women, and especially younger clients who may be vulnerable.

The Review of the Regulation of Cosmetic Interventions published in April recommends better regulation, training and proper redress if things go wrong after finding that a person having a non-surgical cosmetic intervention “has no more protection than someone buying a ballpoint pen or a toothbrush.”

While Ireland lags behind, Dr Meagher and other surgeons are dealing the consequences of patients in their 20s and 30s who have been mis-sold services including “patients having fillers put in the wrong place, liposuction procedures performed that they didn’t need and breast augmentations that are far larger than what was requested”.

Dr Meagher also warns about fly in, fly out surgeons, who often leave patients with no recourse if something goes wrong.

“They are left high and dry in the public healthcare sector here which has implications for the taxpayer,” he says.

At River Medical, a cosmetic surgery clinic in Dublin, business has grown by 20% year on year since they set up in 2008.

Breast augmentation is still the most popular procedure, and demand is up 20% since last year.

On the increase of younger women making enquiries, marketing executive Anna Wymes, says often these are Irish women returning from Australia and America looking to have cosmetic procedures “because of the superbodies they have seen abroad”. River Medical also turns away clients who are too young, and refuse to promote on price.

Two sides of surgery

A 31-year-old model from Belfast and a former Miss Great Britain, Gemma started thinking about getting her breasts enlarged when she was 19.

Like many women, one of her breasts was bigger than the other. Instead of a correction procedure, she was advised to have implants.

When she was 25, she chose a celebrity surgeon, which, she now says, was a mistake. At a cost of £5,000, Gemma was given faulty PIP implants, which later ruptured.

The PIP scandal affected 300,000 women worldwide — it’s estimated 1,500 Irish women have PIPs.

Gemma recalls that while the initial operation was painful, it was nothing compared to having the implants removed. The removal cost a further £11,000. She is now finally on the mend.

Her advice to others is to “wait as long as possible and exhaust every avenue before you choose surgery”.

As for non-cosmetic interventions, she says, “ I think we just don’t know enough about any of these things we are injecting into our faces yet.”

Rachel O’Sullivan

Ten months ago, at the age of 25, Rachel O’Sullivan had a breast augmentation and uplift procedure. After loosing five stone in weight, her breasts changed beyond recognition and no amount of exercise could fix it.

She wanted to get her “normal body back” so after a year of research she decided to go for it.

Post-operation, she was so numb she couldn’t feel any pain. Two weeks later, she started to get feeling back and remembers hating having to sleeping on her back and longing to be able shower properly again. After eight weeks the swelling started to go down. She is now very happy with the results. “It’s made a big improvement to my confidence,” she says.

Her advice to other women? “If you want to get something done, think about it seriously”.

Rachel is glad she had her operation young.

“I wanted to enjoy all the effort I put into loosing the weight. I have the body that I feel I should have.”


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