The Risks & Rewards of Plastic Surgery

The decision to undergo plastic surgery should not be made lightly

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Plastic surgery is a range of procedures that reshapes or restores the form of the body. Although the term is usually associated with cosmetic procedures, it actually includes a broad range of practical operations, including reconstructive surgery, craniofacial surgery, burn treatment, and more.

Whatever the motivation, the decision to undergo surgery should never be made lightly—the risks and rewards should always be considered.

This article will review the potential benefits and drawbacks to having plastic surgery.

A plastic surgeon consulting with his patient
Adam Gault / Science Photo Library / Getty Images

Risks of Plastic Surgery

No surgery is without risk, and the risks that could occur with plastic surgery can affect both mental and physical health.

Mental Health

The potential adverse psychological and social effects of plastic surgery have a lot to do with a patient’s expectations and their mental and emotional state before surgery.

Have Realistic Expectations

While plastic surgery can bring positive outcomes, it will not change your life, the problems you have, or issues in your relationships. It is also important to understand that there is no such thing as physical perfection.

For some people, plastic surgery is an opportunity to fix a perceived flaw that has troubled them for years.

However, people who strongly perceive imperfections within themselves may suffer from body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). This psychological disorder is characterized by an obsessive fixation on a perceived physical flaw. It affects between 1.7% and 2.4% of the general population.

In many cases, people with BDD will seek out multiple plastic surgery procedures and are usually unhappy with the results. Sometimes plastic surgeons will not operate on people with BDD.

If you feel very strong negative emotions toward your physical appearance, it's strongly advised you consult a healthcare provider or mental health professional about body dysmorphic disorder before pursuing surgery.

Physical Health

As with any surgery, plastic surgery carries risks. Surgery does have the potential to cause some unwanted physical side effects. While the worst outcomes are rare, they are a possibility.

While each type of surgery bears its risks that are specific to that particular procedure, certain risks are common to all surgical procedures. These risks include:

  • Infection
  • Excessive or unexpected bleeding (hemorrhage or hematoma)
  • Blood clots
  • Seroma (fluid accumulation)
  • Nerve or organ damage
  • Scarring
  • Anesthesia risks (including shock, respiratory failure, drug or allergic reactions, cardiac arrest, coma, death)

Benefits of Plastic Surgery

It's important to remember that there can be good things that happen from plastic surgery as well, both mentally and physically.

Improved Self Esteem and Confidence

For many patients, successful plastic surgery can lead to an increase in self-esteem and confidence.

Correcting a "problem" perceived by the patient can make them less self-conscious, and relieve social anxiety. It may make them more outgoing, less vulnerable, and more willing to show off their new, flattering features. This new confidence might show itself in many aspects of life—socially, professionally, and romantically.

In addition, some studies have shown that physical attractiveness correlates with professional success, such as hiring decisions, promotions, and salary. Some studies have shown that attractive people receive favorable treatment in restaurants and retail establishments.

When you feel comfortable and confident in your skin, you will put forth these positive emotions in everything you do.

Improved Quality of Life

In some cases, plastic surgery can boost a person's quality of life. For instance, an eyelid lift may help reduce vision problems by removing excess skin, and breast-reduction surgery can relieve chronic back and shoulder pain.

Weighing Risks and Rewards

The potential rewards of plastic surgery are highly individual. Many plastic surgery patients say their only regret is that they didn’t do it sooner.

Yet, there are also many who wish they had never done it at all, or who at least wish they had done more research or chosen a different surgeon. You can lower your risk by doing your homework and becoming an informed patient.

Do not let price be the determining factor in choosing a surgeon. Check credentials and references, ask lots of questions, and be on the lookout for red flags.

Be sure that you go into surgery in the best health possible by taking care of yourself, and don’t let your desire for the surgery overshadow any serious health considerations.

While the risks of plastic surgery do vary from one procedure to another, certain risks are common among all surgeries, and some of the risks are grave. Only you can decide if it’s worth it for you. Educate yourself. Take into account all the pros and cons. Talk it over with your loved ones.

If you decide to go for it, choose the best surgeon you can find. Follow their preoperative and postoperative instructions to the letter. Then enjoy your new look!


Plastic surgery comprises many different surgeries and procedures, with the goal of changing parts of the body, for either medical necessity or cosmetic reasons. There can be risks and benefits, both mentally and physically, for someone who is deciding to have plastic surgery.

A Word From Verywell

Choosing the surgeon who will perform your surgery is probably the most important step you'll take in having plastic surgery. You have to be confident in their skills and knowledge. Research surgeons who are skilled in the type of surgery you will be having. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) advises looking for a plastic surgeon who's board-certified.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does plastic surgery shorten your life span?

    Generally, no. If surgery is successful and there are no complications, then your life span will not be shorter than it would have been had you not had plastic surgery. However, if you experience a life-threatening complication, that may have an impact.

  • Can plastic surgery cause depression?

    There certainly can be feelings of disappointment, sadness, anger, or depression if surgical outcomes are not what were expected, or if major complications occur due to the surgery.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Bjornsson AS, Didie ER, Phillips KA. Body dysmorphic disorder. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2010;12(2):221-232. doi:10.31887/DCNS.2010.12.2/abjornsson

  2. Office on Women's Health. Body dysmorphic disorder.

  3. American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Body dysmorphic disorder may be under-diagnosed in patients seeking cosmetic procedures.

  4. Khunger N. Complications in cosmetic surgery: a time to reflect and review and not sweep them under the carpetJ Cutan Aesthet Surg. 2015;8(4):189-190. doi:10.4103/0974-2077.172188

  5. Cavico FJ, Muffler SC, Mujtaba BG. Appearance discrimination, lookism and lookphobia in the workplace. JABR. 2012;28(5):791-802. doi:10.19030/jabr.v28i5.7223

  6. Muñoz-Reyes JA, Iglesias-Julios M, Pita M, Turiegano E. Facial features: what women perceive as attractive and what men consider attractive. PLoS ONE. 2015;10(7):e0132979. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0132979

  7. Bai J, Rosen CM, Ngaage LM, et al. Longevity of outcomes following reduction mammoplasty. Eplasty. 2019;19:e18.

By Julie Scott, MSN, ANP-BC, AOCNP
Julie is an Adult Nurse Practitioner with oncology certification and a healthcare freelance writer with an interest in educating patients and the healthcare community.

Originally written by Natalie Kita