Truth In Advertising In Plastic Surgery

Advertising and marketing permeates our existence at every turn. It is so omnipresent that it takes outlandish claims and often near unbelieveable stories to even catch most people’s attention anymore. Nowhere is this more true than in anything connected to the pursuit of beauty and youth. From magical skin care creams that purport to make one look 10 years younger in just a fraction of that time to amazing non-prescription supplements that claim to grow body parts, it is hard to separate reality from just another pitch into your pocketbook.

The world of cosmetic surgery, even though it is done by medical doctors which should be more credible, frequently falls into these same marketing shenanigans. This has become rampant in the unregulated sphere of cyberspace where the only monitor is whomever is doing the posting. But when it comes to board-certified plastic surgeons, it is a completely different story. The American Society of Plastic Surgery provides it members with a clear set of ethical regulations and rules which clearly provides what can and cannot be marketed and claimed. Violation of these rules can result in Society expulsion. Here are a few of these highlights.

Plastic surgeons are not allowed to claim to be the ‘best’ without  indicating where that claim comes from. No claim of superiority of skills or results of those skills can be stated compared to physicians of similar training unless it can be factually verified by the public. There are no rating methods provided by any legitimate plastic surgery society. Patients may have different experiences with various surgeons, and the internet provides countless means by which to report them (unregulated and one-sided), but plastic surgeons and their results are not something that can be quantitatively evaluated like a product by Consumer Reports.

The use of before and after photographs must be of the same patient and unaltered. Photographs that have been digitally altered, are of different people, or show results that are not typical for the average patient is forbidden. Before and after surgery pictures that use different lighting, angles and poses that misrepresent results from any plastic surgery procedure is prohibited.

American Society of Plastic Surgery members cannot participate in a raffle, fund raising event, contest or promotion in which the prize is free surgery. No method of inducement to encourage patients to undergo surgery for a financial reason can be done. When you see such a contest or someone who has won a free makeover, you can be assured it is not a board-certified plastic surgeon that is involved.

Claims can not be made of guaranteed surgical results. Predictions of any outcomes of surgery, including satisfaction or any degree of improvement, is likewise prohibited.

Procedure description or outcomes that are placed next to a picture (usually a model) whom has never had the procedure is another ethical violation. This would suggest that the accompanying picture is representative of results that the plastic surgeon can produce. While models in advertisements may be used, they must clearly state next to them that the person in the picture has not received the advertised procedures.

The need for such rules in advertising and marketing in plastic surgery runs counter to what is happening in the ever expanding world of the internet and social media. On the one hand, such rules seem both fair and obvious. But in the pursuit of the cash paying patient for elective surgery, it should be no surprise that the temptation for anything goes can be a powerful one. Plastic surgery is taking the high road in ‘truth in advertising’ and is holding its member’s feet to the fire.

Dr. Barry Eppley

Indianapolis, Indiana