(From “Your Image,” a publication of The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.) Despite what the news headlines may say, the number of cosmetic procedures performed on teens is relatively small.
According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery statistics, cosmetic surgery for people age 18 and younger represents only about 3% of the overall total of procedures done each year.
Among the most commonly performed surgeries for teens are nose reshaping and breast reduction. Nose reshaping can be performed when the nose has completed 90% of its growth, which can occur as early as age 13 or 14 in girls, and 15 or 16 in boys.
Both young women and men may undergo breast reduction procedures. Excessive breast development on one or both sides, a condition called gynecomastia, is reported to affect between 30 and 40 percent of men and is often experienced by teenage boys. In some cases, the condition is slight and disappears on its own. For others, it persists and can become a significant psychosocial problem. Excess tissue can be removed in boys as young as their mid-teens.
Breast reduction can also help girls in their teens who are suffering from the back pain, postural problems and skin rashes that are often caused by overly large breasts. When a very large volume of breast tissue must be removed, the procedure is considered reconstructive rather than cosmetic and may be covered by some types of health insurance.
For teens who are considering cosmetic surgery, and for their parents, there are a number of important considerations. The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery offers these guidelines:
Your teen should be the one to voice the desire for surgery. If a parent suggests cosmetic surgery, this could create insecurity where none previously existed. If you suspect, though, that your child is suppressing negative feelings about a body feature, you may want to probe with open-ended questions, such as “If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?” Parents should be alert for signs that their child has unrealistic expectations about how cosmetic surgery will impact relationships and other issues in his or her life. Ask your teen to verbalize what feature bothers him or her, what effect it has had and for how long, and how changing it would improve things.
Parents should keep in mind that in the teen years the desire to be just like everyone else is strong. As children enter late adolescence, individuality is accepted more comfortably. But don’t discount your child’s feelings, particularly when they are expressed repeatedly in realistic terms
When parents are in doubt about a teen’s need for cosmetic surgery, the advice of a board-certified plastic surgeon can help to put the issue into perspective. During the consultation, it’s often advisable for the plastic surgeon to talk with the teen separately. This removes the possibility of parental pressure and may allow the teen to speak more freely about potentially embarrassing issues.
In addition to an assessment of emotional maturity, the plastic surgeon’s assessment of your teen’s physical maturity is essential. Operating on a feature that has not yet fully developed could interfere with growth or negate the benefits of surgery in later