Just shy of 60 percent of women in the U.S. do not know there is a difference between a cosmetic surgeon and a plastic surgeon, according to a new RealSelf survey conducted online by The Harris Poll.

More than eight in 10 women (84 percent) in the U.S. are unaware that medical professionals do not have to be board certified in plastic surgery to perform surgical cosmetic procedures such as rhinoplasty or breast augmentation, the survey showed.

The report also reveals that a growing number of women are seeking cosmetic treatments for the first time. More than one in four women in the U.S. (26 percent) are currently considering a cosmetic procedure, and nearly three-fourths of those women (73 percent) have never had one in the past. Interest is higher among young adults, with females ages 18–34 nearly two times more likely than those 35 and older to be considering a cosmetic procedure (37 percent vs. 21 percent).

"Medical aesthetics is a little like the Wild West, and unfortunately many consumers simply don't realize the lack of regulation," said RealSelf Chief Medical Editor Dr. Lara Devgan, a New York City plastic surgeon, in a news release. "This study highlights some of the most common misconceptions and why it's so important to do your research. As nonsurgical treatments become more accessible and a wave of people seek procedures for the first time, patients must understand that it's crucial to use RealSelf to fact-check a doctor's credentials before booking a treatment."

Women who have an annual household income of $75,000 or more are significantly more likely than those with a household income of less than $75,000 to know that a cosmetic surgeon is not the same as a plastic surgeon (63 percent vs. 54 percent).

Is there a difference between a cosmetic surgeon and a plastic surgeon?

Answer

All

Household income 
<$75K

Household income

$75K+

Yes (Correct answer)

41%

37%

46%

No/Not at all sure

59%

63%

54%

Source: RealSelf.com survey conducted by The Harris Poll


The findings also reveal widespread misunderstanding about the qualifications required to perform cosmetic surgery. More than eight in 10 women (84 percent) in the U.S. are unaware that medical professionals do not have to be board certified in plastic surgery to perform surgical cosmetic procedures like rhinoplasty or breast augmentation. More than half of women (55 percent) think medical professionals are required to be board certified and about one-third (29 percent) say they don't know. To add to the confusion, only about one in five (19 percent) women in the U.S. know that a licensed physician can advertise as a cosmetic surgeon, even if they have no formal training in plastic surgery.

To be certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, surgeons must have at least six years of residency training, while certification from the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery requires only one year. Furthermore, the American Board of Medical Specialties recognizes the American Board of Plastic Surgery as an official board but not the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery.

Household income has a significant impact on how well women understand who is allowed to perform cosmetic surgeries. Women with annual household incomes below $75,000 are significantly less likely than those with household incomes over $75,000 to know that doctors are not required to be board certified in plastic surgery to perform surgical procedures (14 percent vs. 20 percent) and they are less likely to know that a licensed physician can advertise as a cosmetic surgeon, even if they have no formal training in plastic surgery (16 percent vs. 23 percent).

True or False: A medical professional who performs surgical cosmetic procedures (e.g., breast augmentation, rhinoplasty) must be a board-certified plastic surgeon.

Answer

All

Household income

<$75K

Household income

$75K+

False (Correct answer)

16%

14%

20%

True

55%

57%

53%

I don't know

29%

29%

28%

Source: RealSelf.com survey conducted by The Harris Poll

 

True or False: A licensed physician is allowed to advertise as a cosmetic surgeon, even if they have no formal training in plastic surgery.

Answer

All

Household income

<$75K

Household income

$75K+

True (Correct answer)

19%

16%

23%

False

43%

48%

46%

I don't know

38%

35%

41%

Source: RealSelf.com survey conducted by The Harris Poll

While confusion about credentials and qualifications is widespread, the report reveals that the majority of consumers still view the decision to move forward with a cosmetic procedure as a serious one.


U.S. women who have had or are considering a cosmetic procedure say patient reviews (67 percent) and a provider's education and board certification (66 percent) are the most valuable pieces of information when choosing a doctor for a cosmetic treatment or procedure. Least important is the provider's social media presence (14 percent).

Most valuable information when choosing a cosmetic treatment provider

Patient reviews

67%

Education and board certification

66%

Before and after photos

53%

The provider's prices

45%

Friend/Family recommendations

42%

The provider's website

32%

The provider's social media presence

14%

Other

3%

Source: RealSelf.com survey conducted by The Harris Poll

Among those who have had or are currently considering a cosmetic procedure, almost all (94 percent) have at least one concern related to the procedure. The top concern is paying for the procedure (64 percent), followed by fear of complications or a bad result (60 percent) and finding the right provider (51 percent).

Top concerns when considering a cosmetic procedure

Paying for the procedure

64%

Fear of complications/Bad results

60%

Finding the right provider

51%

Recovery/Downtime

39%

Don't want to look like I've had work done

35%

Concerned about long-term effects

35%

Confused or unsure about the right treatment or procedure options

21%

Stigma associated with people who choose to have treatments

9%

Source: RealSelf.com survey conducted by The Harris Poll

These findings highlight some of the top challenges consumers face when considering a cosmetic procedure.

To address these concerns, RealSelf launched RealSelf VerifiedSM a first-of-its-kind program that makes it easier for consumers to shop for plastic surgeons and aesthetic providers. RealSelf Verified doctors must meet requirements confirmed by RealSelf, including proper medical licensing, high patient satisfaction ratings, responsive service and commitment to transparency. RealSelf also requires Verified doctors to provide the information most important to consumers on their profiles, including years of experience, hospital privileges, and whether they carry malpractice insurance. They are also required to have before and after photos of their most-performed procedures and list their active board certifications. For more information about RealSelf Verified, or to find a doctor near you, please visit www.realself.com/find.