Cosmetic surgery 


How common are cosmetic procedures?

In recent years, cosmetic surgery has become very popular. It's estimated that over 120,000 surgical procedures were performed in the UK during 2011. About 9 in every 10 cosmetic surgery procedures are carried out in women.

Non-surgical cosmetic treatments, such as Botox, are even more popular than surgical procedures, accounting for over 90% of all cosmetic procedures.

Cosmetic surgery abroad

Treatment abroad can cost less than in the UK but any savings should be weighed up against potential risks

Cosmetic or aesthetic surgery is a type of surgery used to change a person’s appearance to achieve what they perceive to be a more desirable look.

In certain situations cosmetic surgery may be needed for functional reasons. For example, breast reduction is sometimes used to alleviate back or neck pain.

Cosmetic surgery is different to reconstructive plastic surgery, which is a type of surgery used to repair damaged tissue following injury or illness.

Considering cosmetic surgery

Having cosmetic surgery is a major decision. It can be expensive, time consuming and the results can't be guaranteed.

Sometimes, people feel that having cosmetic surgery will help to solve a problem in their life and will make their life better. 

It's important to ask yourself why you want to have cosmetic surgery. It's a good idea to discuss your plans with your GP before going ahead with treatment. If you decide to have surgery, be absolutely sure about your reasons for wanting to have it.

Read more about whether cosmetic surgery is right for you.

Can I get cosmetic surgery on the NHS?

Cosmetic surgery is rarely available through the NHS. There must be a major physical or psychological reason for needing the surgery.  

In rare cases, a clinical commissioning group (CCG) may decide that cosmetic surgery is required to improve a person's health, although NHS resources are limited and waiting times are usually long. For this reason, most people pay to have cosmetic surgery privately.

Read more about the availability of cosmetic surgery.

Choosing a surgeon

If you decide to have cosmetic surgery, it's important that the surgeon and other healthcare professionals carrying out the procedure are fully qualified and experienced in the type of procedure you're having.

You should discuss the procedure in detail with your surgeon. Ask as many questions as you need to so that you're fully aware of what the procedure involves, how it will be carried out, what the results will be and whether there will be any after effects.

Read more about choosing a cosmetic surgeon and qualifications to look for in a cosmetic surgeon.

Surgical procedures

There are many different types of cosmetic surgery procedure. Some of the most common include:

  • breast augmentation – surgery to increase breast size using breast implants
  • breast reduction (male and female) – surgery to reduce the weight and volume of the breasts
  • eyelid surgery (blepharoplasty) – surgery to remove excess skin from the upper and lower eyelids to get rid of hooded eyelids or eye bags
  • liposuction – surgery to remove unwanted body fat
  • ear reshaping (otoplasty or pinnaplasty) – surgery to treat protruding ears

Read more about common cosmetic surgery procedures.

Non-surgical procedures

A popular alternative to cosmetic surgery are non-surgical cosmetic procedures. These can change a person’s appearance using things like injections and lasers.

Common non-surgical procedures include:

  • botulinum toxin injections – such as Botox, to help relax facial muscles and make lines and wrinkles less obvious
  • dermal fillers – injected into wrinkles or creases to fill them out
  • chemical peels – which use chemicals to remove the outer layer of skin cells
  • microdermabrasion – which uses fine crystals and a vacuum to remove dead skin cells
  • laser and intense light treatments – such as hair removal

However, there is little regulation of these procedures and many don't require the person performing them to have any medical qualifications.

Read more about common non-surgical cosmetic procedures.

Making a complaint

As with all types of surgery, cosmetic surgery can sometimes go wrong and the results may not be what you expected.

If you've had cosmetic surgery and you're not happy with the results, or you think that the procedure wasn't carried out properly, take up the matter with your surgeon through the hospital or clinic that referred you.

If you wish to take the matter further, you can contact the Care Quality Commission (CQC). The CQC is a regulatory body that all hospitals and clinics providing cosmetic surgery must be registered with.

Practitioners of non-surgical procedures do not currently need to be registered with the CQC or any other regulatory body, so if you have an issue it's best to take it up with the person who carried out the procedure or the clinic where it was performed. 

Page last reviewed: 16/05/2013

Next review due: 16/05/2015


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The 10 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Ladywriter1968 said on 24 August 2014

Babypinkdoll, when I saw my gp about the hairs on my face, he told me, before nhs would even consider lazer treatment I would have to see a psychiatrist and that could take months and then a report would have to be given to say how it affects my life, from that the nhs may decide yes or no as to nhs treatment to remove the hair from my chin, so you could try that route but there are no guarantees. I think its mean of nhs not covering cosmetics, they should for medical reasons or for a person that is suffering because of an appearance they cant afford to pay for to get rid of, I agree they should not get stuff on nhs just because they want to look beautiful or a vain reason, but reasons like my friend with the black mole on her face and my facial hair etc. and your situation they should help.

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Ladywriter1968 said on 24 August 2014

My friend had to pay over £300 to have a mole removed from her face as they dont do on nhs. I have facial hair dark ones on my chin, I have to pull out every day with tweezers, its really time consuming, when asked nhs dont do it, comes under cosmetic surgery, I cant afford to pay private for treatment, so just have to put up with it.

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Babypinkdoll said on 21 May 2013

Hello im 17
I suffer from serve depression and anxiety
And go therapy every week
I have been bullied all my life about my nose and its got so bad i tried to end my life and i nearly did die im now left with a hand which doesnt work right
I was wondering if i would be able for a free nose job?
I cant afford to pay for one as i dont leave my house ;/
My nose really does trouble me that much its ruining my life
I cant love myself or even wanna be myself

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Paige345 said on 07 May 2013

I used to have one of my ears pierced to low by a practise lady in a shop and after about 2-3 years it got lower and lower and eventually split right down, it is about 0.8cm going down and it doesn't cause me pain but it does upset me when people seem to point it out as 'Ewww, that's disgusting' I was wondering if I would need cosmetic surgery and would it cost if so how much ?

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mamalila said on 02 July 2012

I had a breast uplift with enlargement. The results of 2 children and breast feeding. My breasts were a 34B and very empty with a bit of a droop, and I wanted to have back what I was like when I was breast feeding (a full C cup). The doctor advised me to have an uplift as well as the augmentation which was at the end the right decision! The results are fantastic, although because I needed an uplift too, I have scars around my nipples and down towards the breast crease (but they are fading all the time). The shape is really natural, and it has given me such a confidence boost, its untrue! Good luck with your decisions. You have to belief in your surgeon first and foremost.

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LittleIglu said on 09 January 2012

Would hairline lowering/ hair transplant be available on the nhs?

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gems25 said on 04 December 2010

please help, i recently had labiaplasty done on nhs by my gyno (1st dec) was not given a option of a surgeon...before the op he said he would examine me so we could talk about procedure he would be doing.i showed him a pic of what i wanted to look like as he told me to do this...all i needed was a trim and a hoodectomy. after 4 and a half hours of bein left in a cold room with just a chair freezing i was taking down to a room given anestetic and did not see my gyno...woke up in recovery room told by my gyno everything went well and to come back in 2 weeks....when i got home i was horrified to find he had done wedge method and cut my labia majora which was never discussed..the whole thing is a total mess i have flaps of skin everywhere and very poor stiching..which have all busted open today on one side...i am so gutted as this has been a problem for so long for me for many reasons...being accepted for this on nhs was a god send..i was looking forward to leading a normal it is ruined...i can honestly say this is a botch job and i am devestated thought i could trust a gyno on nhs...obviously not!!!! im hoping the nhs will correct this can anybody tell me if this is now possible??????
or i am thinking of sueing my gyno for this...i will never be able to be intimate again and stand toloose everything....gutted!!!

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sm1234 said on 16 July 2010

Go and see your GP to be referred under the NHS for breat reduction plastic surgery. I have done this myself as like you I am unhappy with my breast size and they grew quickly over a couple of years giving me stretch marks and drooping. I am 40 now and wish I had looked into this years ago! I am waiting for surgery now on the NHS after having a consultation with a surgeon and also with a psychologist to see if I qualified. This could take up to another year and a half but as I can't afford to go private (£5,000 approx) I am happy to wait. If you do decide to go private make sure you research well to choose a surgeon. Good luck.

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nats83 said on 15 April 2010

hi im natalie and 27 years young, in 2001 i was a passenger in a serious car accident which broke and mis shaped my nose im still having trouble breathing and always bunged up and am pretty sure the reason for all my headaches very rarely i can feel abit of something i assume the bone coming away from my nose on the bridge please help me waht do you suggest please , being a single mummy money is tight and so cant afford to go private. would be very very grateful of some feedback its really affectin my life now.

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lauren1993 said on 24 March 2010

hi, i'm only sixteen and i don't know how else to go about this at all. So i thought visiting this website you be able to give me some advice and help. i started growing breats from a very early age- i was a C when i was 9 years old. i'm now an E but because i started so early my breats are very low down which causes me depression as their not like any other girls breats. i'm thinking about surgery deeply as its the only way i can have my confidence back. i look after them so well, i just cant help how saggy they have got. its horrible thing to go through and i'm not happy at all. please help and give me advice.

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Non-surgical cosmetic procedures

Non-surgical cosmetic procedures, such as botox and fillers are becoming increasingly popular. Find out more about some of the most common treatments, including the risks involved