For some people, cosmetic surgery represents the chance to change a physical feature they've never really liked. For others, it represents an exciting option to turn back the clock a little. For others, it's an opportunity to boost their body image and enhance their self-esteem.

Regardless what it means to you, if you're considering cosmetic surgery, it's likely that thousands, if not millions, of other prospective patients have felt the same way that you do. After all, nearly 11 million cosmetic surgeries were performed in the United States in 2006 alone, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS).

Despite the prevalence of these procedures, however, cosmetic surgery shouldn't be entered into lightly. Experts urge prospective patients to do their research so they can make informed decisions. In addition, it's important to have realistic expectations regarding what the procedure can and can't achieve. Here, an overview of the most popular cosmetic procedures, as well as 15 questions every prospective cosmetic-surgery patient should ask their doctor.

The 4 Most Common Cosmetic Procedures


According to the ASPS, hundreds of thousands of these surgeries are performed each year in the United States.

1. Breast Augmentation

With 329,000 reported surgeries, breast augmentation was America's most popular cosmetic procedure in 2006. Also known as breast enlargement or mammoplasty, the procedure generally involves the insertion of saline- or silicone-gel-filled implants via incisions in the armpit, the areolar border (around the nipple), or the inframammary fold (under the breast). The implants may be placed underneath or over the pectoralis muscles, and generally incision scars fade within a few months but do not completely disappear.

According to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) study, an estimated 87 percent of patients indicated being satisfied with their breast implants seven years after their procedures. However, the surgery comes with some risks. According to a study by implant manufacturer INAMED, 7 percent of breast-augmentation patients reported some degree of capsular contracture (a hardening of the implants) one year post-op, while 4 percent experienced leakage or deflation. As with any surgery, there's also some risk of infection, swelling, pain, or complications associated with anesthesia.

2. Rhinoplasty

In 2006, 307,000 Americans underwent rhinoplasty, making it the second most common cosmetic procedure in the nation. Also known as a nose job or nose-reshaping surgery, the procedure is performed under a general or local anesthetic. In closed rhinoplasty, the incisions are made inside the nostrils so any scars are invisible; in open rhinoplasty, nearly invisible incisions are also made on the columella, the tiny piece of skin that separates the nostrils.

In general, it takes patients one to two weeks to return to work after rhinoplasty, during which time it's important that they follow their doctor's post-op instructions. Although patient-satisfaction rates are generally high, sometimes a second surgery is needed to achieve the desired result. In addition, while these side effects are unusual, some patients experience broken blood vessels on the surface of the skin, numbness, or nosebleeds; in rare cases, patients have reported lasting nerve damage.

3. Liposuction

With 302,000 reported procedures, liposuction, or liposculpture, was nearly as popular as breast augmentation and rhinoplasty in 2006. The operation, in which a surgeon uses a cannula (a hollow tube) and an aspirator (a suction device) to remove fat, can be performed on various body areas, including the thighs, stomach, buttocks, neck, and arms. Although patients generally return to work within a few days or weeks, they may need to wear a compression garment or bandages for two weeks to a month.

Experts are quick to point out that liposuction is not a quick weight-loss fix, nor is it a substitute for healthy diet and exercise. It's a body-contouring procedure in which less than 10 pounds of fat is generally removed. In addition, the surgery comes with certain risks. According to a 2004 study published in Dermatologic Surgery, the overall clinical complication rate for liposuction was 0.7 percent, but some of the more serious side effects included tissue damage, skin necrosis (dead skin), and in rare cases, the puncture of an internal organ.

4. Eyelid Surgery

More than 210,000 Americans underwent eyelid surgery in 2006. Also known as blepharoplasty, the procedure usually involves external incisions made along the natural skin lines of the eyelids and may be performed on the upper or lower eyelids, or both, to diminish the appearance of bags, puffiness, or wrinkles. In certain cases, when patients have excess skin, upper eyelid surgery may be performed to improve peripheral vision.

Although most patients are pleased with the result of their procedures, blepharoplasty is still surgery, so the risks associated with anesthesia and other complications apply. In addition, eyelid surgery is not recommended for patients who suffer from high blood pressure, hyperthyroidism, diabetes, Graves' disease, glaucoma, detached retina, dry eye, or problems with tear ducts.

15 Questions to Ask Your Cosmetic Surgeon

When choosing a cosmetic surgeon, it's important to find a doctor who's both experienced in the procedure and willing discuss your concerns with you. During your consultation, be sure to ask the following questions.

1. How many of these procedures do you perform each year?
2. How many years have you spent performing this procedure?
3. Are you board certified, and if so, with which board(s)?
4. In which states are you licensed to practice surgery?
5. What are the risks and complications associated with this procedure?
6. How many additional operations can I expect as a result of this procedure over my lifetime?
7. What are my options if I'm dissatisfied with the outcome of my surgery?
8. If I'm unhappy with the results, is it possible to "reverse" the procedure? If so, what results can I expect?
9. Will this surgery have any functional repercussions?
10. How can I expect my results to look over time?
11. What alternate procedures or products are available if I choose not to have this surgery?
12. Do you have before-and-after photos I can look at, and which of those results are reasonable for me to expect?
13. What's the most common complication you encounter with this procedure?
14. What's your reoperation rate, and what's the most common type of reoperation you perform?
15. Do you believe I'm an informed patient with realistic expectations who would be a good candidate for this procedure?