Which Cosmetic Procedures are Safe, and Which Are Best Avoided?

People always ask me—whether in person, on my blog, on Facebook, or on Twitter—what the safest cosmetic procedures are. Here are my thoughts on some of the most common and popular cosmetic procedures, just in case you were considering any of them!

Botox, Liposuction, and Lasers: My Botox Warning

According to a recent U.S. review (published in Dermatologic Clinics), the following procedures are considered safe and effective:

  • Injections of Botox to smooth wrinkles
  • Liposuction to remove fat
  • Lasers to treat broken blood vessels and rosacea
  • Lasers to remove brown spots and hair

Revised June 8, 2012: Please note that after publishing this post, I received several comments from people who have been seriously harmed by laser treatments. Therefore, I’m adding a “red flag” here to warn customers—please do your research, check with your doctors, and be sure laser treatments are right and safe for you before moving forward, as side effects can be lasting and disfiguring. Also realize that laser treatments vary, depending on what outcome you’re looking for. Fractional laser resurfacing, in particular, which wasn’t mentioned in this review but was mentioned by our readers, may present particularly serious risks.

I have some cautions on Botox, however. Made from a bacteria that produces botulinum toxin, which is then processed and purified, Botox has a paralyzing effect on muscles, helping to smooth wrinkles.

The non-profit advocacy group “Public Citizen” petitioned the FDA in 2008 to increase its warnings and directly warn patients and doctors about the use of botulinum toxin—available as Botox and Myobloc—because of serious adverse reactions, including deaths. In some cases, the toxin spread to other parts of the body with serious consequences, such as paralysis or other muscles that can result in difficulty breathing and swallowing. Even Dr. Oz has warned about potentially unsafe practices.

If you decide to go ahead with Botox, make sure you check the doctor’s credentials, and ask for before and after pictures of his former patients. Verify his experience and make sure he’s qualified to perform the treatment—I would recommend a dermatologist. But remember that botox is a toxin. We’re already surrounded by so many potentially harmful chemicals. Do you really want to add more to your body? If you’re trying to reduce your overall toxic load, avoid this treatment.

Injectables: I Say Stay Away

Used to decrease the appearance of wrinkles and acne scars, injectables or facial fillers are another popular cosmetic procedure, as they don’t require surgery. Juvederm, Radiesse, Restylane, Sculptra, Captique, and more are all treatments in this category. This is another treatment I would recommend you avoid. Here’s why:

  • They can cause skin reactions resembling a skin rash
  • Some can cause “clumping” over time, which may be irreversible
  • Over-correction can make one side of your face look different from the other
  • These treatments are still relatively new—Juvederm was approved by the FDA in 2006, for example—which means that we don’t yet know how these injections will impact other health conditions like high blood pressure; we have no long-term studies

Sclerotherapy: Be Cautious

This treatment for varicose veins and spider veins has helped a lot of people to feel more comfortable and confident. Doctors inject a solution directly into the affected vein, and it causes the lining of the vessel to swell, stick together, and eventually turn to scar tissue that fades from view. This procedure has been safely used since the 1930s, but like all procedures, may cause complications.

Potential side effects from this treatment may include the following. Talk to your doctor about your risk:

  • Some patients require repeated treatments before the veins fade sufficiently
  • As a rare occurrence, dark patches of skin may appear across the treated area; this hyperpigmentation may be permanent
  • There is a slight risk of deep vein thrombosis—in which a blood clot forms inside one of the deep veins, and may travel to the lungs or brain
  • Allergic reactions to the injection may cause itching and swelling, but are rarely serious

Procedures That Appear to be Safe

Other than these three procedures—Botox, injectables and sclerotherapy—I feel that most other procedures are mostly safe. Here’s a quick run-down.

  • Microcurrent facials: As long as you have an experienced technician, microcurrent facials, which use low currents of electricity to help tone and tighten skin, can be a safe way to upgrade your look.
  • LED light therapy: Using infrared light, technicians re-energize aging and damaged skin by stimulating cellular renewal.
  • Microdermabrasion: This exfoliating treatment use a minimally abrasive instrument to gently remove dead skin cells, treating light scarring, discoloration and sun damage. Though usually considered safe, if you have sensitive skin, skin struggling against cancer treatments or medications, or skin prone to broken blood vessels, this treatment isn’t for you
  • Cool sculpting: This procedure works well for people looking to lose fat around the abdomen—you know, things like the muffin tops and love handles. A targeted cooling process kills the fat cells underneath the skin, freezing them to the point of elimination. All results so far give the green light on this procedure
  • Spray tanning: Sunless tanning products use DHA, which is safe on the outside of the body, but you don’t want to inhale it—just be sure to use nose plugs and protective eyewear at the tanning salon, confirm the room is well ventilated, and choose organic versions when possible.

Bottom Line

No matter what procedure you may be considering, think first and foremost about your safety. Psychologist Vivian Diller, Ph.D., recommends you think about these four issues (SAFE):

  • Safety: Do your research, find qualified people, make sure the procedure is FDA-approved, and make sure the professionals answer all your questions.
  • Affordability: Make sure you understand the long-term costs—some procedures require more than one treatment to show results. Also realize that as you see improvement in one area or your face and/or body, you may be inclined to see more faults in others. Set limits before you begin to avoid falling into the financial trap of multiple procedures.
  • For Whom: Who are you doing the procedure for? Make sure you’re not just following someone else’s suggestion. Findings show that surgical changes are most satisfying when they fulfill clear, personal goals. Think carefully about why you want to undergo the procedure.
  • Expectations: Be realistic about the results you can expect. Before and after pictures may exaggerate the benefits, and if you’re wanting to feel better about yourself, cosmetic procedures aren’t necessarily the answer. Talk with your doctor and/or a trusted friends about your feelings before moving forward.

Have you gone through any of these procedures. What did you think of the results? Please share your experience.

Photo courtesy LaVida Massage Johns Creek via Flickr.com.

Sources

“Cosmetic Procedures Compared for Safety,” UPI.com, January 9, 2012, http://www.upi.com/Health_News/2012/01/09/Cosmetic-procedures-compared-for-safety/UPI-27861326160471/.

“Sclerotherapy,” Cleveland Clinic, November 2010, http://my.clevelandclinic.org/heart/disorders/vascular/sclerotherapy.aspx.

Vivian Diller, Ph.D., “Thinking About Cosmetic Procedures? Think S.A.F.E.,” Psychology Today, August 27, 2010, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/face-it/201008/thinking-about-cosmetic-procedures-think-safe.

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