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Keywords:

  • cosmetic surgery;
  • medicalisation risks;
  • patient autonomy and relational autonomy;
  • regulation risks

Aims and objectives.  To examine and critique the risks of cosmetic surgery and consider implications for practice.

Background.  Cosmetic surgery is a growing industry with a significant global phenomenon. Feminists have been critical of aesthetic surgery practice, offering a range of representations in regard to ‘identity’, ‘normality’, ‘cultural and social pressures’, ‘agency’ and ‘self-enhancement’. Discourses around minimising risk information acknowledge deficits in not supplying patients with full risk information. The results are usually devastating and lead to serious health complications that incisively diminish well-being for patients and increase health costs.

Design.  Critical review.

Method.  This paper represents a critical review of risks associated with cosmetic surgery. A Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System online (Medline) and British Nursing Index (BNI) search with relevant key words were undertaken and selected exemplary articles and research describing and/or evaluating cosmetic surgery risk. Only papers in the English language from 1982–2009 were reviewed. The papers examined were mainly empirical studies; some opinion papers, policy documents, textbooks and websites were examined too.

Conclusion.  The literature revealed that several factors influence consumer risks including regulation vagaries, medicalisation processes, fear of ageing discrimination, wanting to avoid ethnic prejudice and media pressure. Government strategies in the United Kingdom (UK) have attempted to improve clinical standards; however, little attempt has been made globally to raise institutional and professional awareness of the huge impact of cultural and social pressures on consumers.

Relevance to clinical practice.  Avoiding shattering complications by improving the provision of risk information for patients is a worthwhile goal. Therefore, health professionals need to consider consumer rights and autonomy more carefully, facilitate rigorous screening and develop knowledge in regard to relational autonomy and alternative interventions.