Too Good To Be True

We are exposed everyday to incredulous claims about health and cosmetic products and services. Advertisements from radio to infomercials bombard us on the weakest aspect of our inner selves…how we look and feel. We all want to look better and feel healthier and to do it with the least effort possible. It is this cross between desire and effort that results in many retail sales that usually benefit the manufacturer or seller the most.

I saw an infomercial just yesterday on an abdominal stimulator device. Being able to read a book, watch TV, or even eat dinner while the device delivers perfect abs certainly seems appealing. With testimonials by six-pack endorsees and seeing their abdominal muscles twitch through their nearly transparent skin made even me as a physician a near believer. After all, their muscles were actually moving and surely that is more muscle activity than I can produce with a series of half-hearted sit-ups. But the price was the clincher…$14.95! Six-packs at the price of less than a week of Starbucks…how could one go wrong?

Or the radio commercial from earlier in the week where another topical potion espouses how it can make cellulite and stretch marks disappear…and it starts working with just the first application! After all, it is so effective that it was given away in bags at a recent film festival. If that isn’t scientific evidence then I don’t know what is. The demon of many a women’s belly and thigh skin, the search for an effective treatment for cellulite and stretch marks has been more elusive than real evidence on Ghost Hunters.

But grandiose claims about cosmetic surgery are not so apparent. Because these services are provided by physicians and always cost more than $19.95, the public’s acceptance of treatment claims is far less discriminating. The use of needles, sophisticated lasers, and actual surgery strongly suggest that the desired outcome will surely happen.

The last decade has seen the merging of two highly compatible themes- busy lifestyles and non-invasive to minimally-invasive cosmetic procedures. The potential for big improvement in appearance with little to no recovery time is the cosmetic holy grail. The concept of a little effort (time, money, and pain) with a big result is what most patients want. But short of Botox and injectable fillers, most other hyped ‘quickie’ cosmetic treatments fail to deliver so successfully.

Lunchtime surgery and weekend recovery procedures, while providing some benefits, do not produce results that are as dramatic and long-lasting as many of the established and well known cosmetic surgery procedures. One really cannot get inches off one’s waistline in a few weeks without real liposuction or a tummy tuck, breasts will not grow larger or become uplifted with pills and injections, and that neck wattle won’t disappear with a laser treatment, suspension sutures or an exercising device. The allure of some of these procedures preys on exactly what that infomercial does…the greatest selling tool of all time…hope.

Marketing is an essential part of elective plastic surgery and all cosmetic procedures. But when the promotional content gets ahead of proven medical science, it is almost always too good to be true.

Dr. Barry Eppley