Women and men interested in cosmetic enhancement frequently ask: “Am I a good candidate for plastic surgery?” In general, patients of all ages can be good candidates for plastic surgery, but there are several criteria (aspects) that make some individuals better suited than others. These include:

1. Correctable Anatomical Concerns

A primary consideration is the presence of a correctable problem. Most patients that seek elective plastic surgery have an anatomic situation that is correctable, meaning it can be improved. In many patients, there is a correctable anatomic problem for which plastic surgery would make a considerable difference. In other patients, there may be a minor anatomic problem for which plastic surgery would make a smaller difference. Both of these groups may be good candidates for plastic surgery, provided they have realistic expectations.

In addition to the severity of the anatomic problem to be corrected based on appearance, the condition of the local tissue is also important. There are many local tissue factors that can have a positive or a negative effect on the procedure. For example, skin elasticity can affect the final outcome of the procedure. Generally speaking, the better the skin elasticity, the better the final outcome of the procedure. Some procedures are more likely to be affected by skin elasticity and other local tissue factors than others. For instance, skin elasticity is more likely to affect an abdominoplasty (tummy tuck) or liposuction than it would a rhinoplasty (nose reshaping). Skin elasticity is only one—but a very important one—of the local tissue factors that can affect the outcome of plastic surgery.

2. Realistic Expectations

Realistic expectations by the patient are very important when considering elective plastic surgery. In this context, “realistic expectations” means that the patient has a realistic concept about what outcome can be expected after surgery. Patients will frequently bring in magazines or images on a cellphone and state, “I want to look exactly like this.” This represents unrealistic expectations by the patient. All individuals are unique, and one patient will never look exactly like another person—with the exception being identical twins. The unique nature of the human being is actually a good thing that creates unique identities. Cosmetic plastic surgery does not create anything new, as does reconstructive surgery (creating a new, reconstructed breast), but rather alters the anatomy that is already there. Appreciation of unique anatomy is paramount in achieving realistic expectations. Two abdominoplasty patients, one normal weight and the other overweight, will not have equivalent outcomes with surgery. As realistically expected, the patient that is normal weight would likely have a better outcome than the patient who is overweight. The overweight patient may still have a good outcome, just not as good as the normal weight patient.

3. General Health

The general medical condition of the patient is also a very important consideration in determining fitness for surgery. Good general health improves the chances of a favorable outcome from an elective plastic surgery procedure. In some patients, poor general health may preclude elective plastic surgery. For example, elective plastic surgery on a patient with poorly controlled diabetes mellitus would not be a good choice. Elective plastic surgery on a patient that is morbidly obese would also not be a good choice. That said, this certainly does not mean that patients must be in perfect general health before getting elective plastic surgery—if a patient is overweight but not obese, then elective plastic surgery may be an option. Patients with less than great skin elasticity may also be candidates for elective plastic surgery.

Are There Exceptions to the Rules?

Some patients choose to have elective plastic surgery when there is a minimal anatomic problem. This type of elective plastic surgery has been referred to by some as “Boutique Plastic Surgery.” An example of “Boutique Plastic Surgery” would be the patient that is in excellent physical condition but has a small area of fat just around the belly button that is exercise- and diet-resistant. This means, despite a healthy diet and physical activity, this area of localized fat still exists. This patient could be an excellent candidate for liposuction, provided she or he has a realistic expectation about the final result. However, the patient with the ideal anatomic situation is the exception rather than the rule. Most every patient has some type of limitation for elective plastic surgery. Patients that do not have an ideal anatomic situation for elective plastic surgery may still get a good outcome.

The anatomic factors that make a patient a good candidate for elective plastic surgery fall into two categories. Of those factors, some can be optimized, and some cannot be optimized. An example of a factor that can be changed is the use of cigarettes. Smoking has many detrimental effects on wound healing, and cessation of smoking lowers the risks of those problems. An example of a factor that cannot be changed is skin elasticity. Skin elasticity is affected by many factors, including aging, sun exposure, alcohol abuse, tobacco abuse, and pregnancy. Once skin elasticity is lost, correction of this problem is usually not possible. To be the best candidate possible for elective plastic surgery, improvable factors should be addressed by the patient.

Can I Improve My Candidacy for Plastic Surgery?

Patients fall into three subjective general categories related to fitness for elective plastic surgery. The three categories are excellent, good, and poor (not a candidate). In general, excellent and good candidates can be expected to get improvement with elective plastic surgery. Patients that are poor candidates for elective plastic surgery and have improvable factors can sometimes become a good candidate. An example is the patient that is a poor candidate for elective plastic surgery due to obesity. With some weight loss, the patient may fall into the overweight category (calculated by BMI), and may then become a good candidate for elective plastic surgery.

Find Out If Plastic Surgery Is Right for You

In summary, there are several important factors that make patients a candidate for elective plastic surgery: a correctable anatomic problem must be present to be a candidate for elective plastic surgery; realistic expectations by the patient are very important for patients seeking elective plastic surgery; and good general health is important in determining fitness for elective plastic surgery. During an in-person consultation, which is free at Herring Plastic Surgery, these factors are explored and discussed in detail with every patient.

If you are interested in plastic surgery and would like to schedule a complimentary consultation with board-certified plastic surgeon Stephen Herring, MD, please feel free to contact our practice online or by telephone today.