Appearance-altering apps are driving more young patients to seek plastic surgery, researchers say

Social media, edited selfies and pioneering apps that assist in altering a person's appearance creates a false reality of unrealistic beauty, leading many younger patients to seek out plastic surgery, three authors write in an op-ed published in JAMA.

Here are the op-ed's authors, all of whom are affiliated with the Vashi Laboratory in Dermatology at Boston University School of Medicine:

  • Neelam Vashi, MD, founding director of Vashi Lab
  • Mayra Maymone, MD, research assistant at Vashi Lab
  • Susruthi Rajanala, a second-year student at Boston University School of Medicine

Here are six things to know:

1. The authors argue there is a spike in body dysmorphic disorder attributed to apps like Snapchat and Facetune, which erode a user's self-esteem by making them feel inadequate for how they look in the real world.

"Body dysmorphic disorder is an excessive preoccupation with a perceived flaw in appearance, classified on the obsessive-compulsive spectrum," the authors wrote. "Those with BDD often go to great lengths to hide their imperfections, engage in repetitive behaviors like skin picking or grooming, and may visit dermatologists or plastic surgeons frequently, hoping to change their appearance."

2. A 2015 study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders illustrated how edited selfies affect body dissatisfaction in adolescent girls. Study participants who often altered their photos reported higher concerns with their own body image. The same study suggested individuals with BDD may use social media to validate their own attractiveness.

3. While patients previously brought photos of celebrities to their plastic surgery consultations, manow seek cosmetic surgery wishing to emulate their filtered social media selves, according to the authors.

4. Fifty-five percent of surgeons report seeing patients requesting surgery to improve their appearances in selfies, according to the 2017 Annual American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery survey. In 2015, this number was only 42 percent.

5. Prior to selfies, the most commonly performed plastic surgery was rhinoplasty to reshape the nose.

"Today, nasal and facial asymmetry is the more common presenting concern," the authors wrote. "Along with rhinoplasties, hair transplants and eyelid surgical procedures are also popular requests to improve selfie appearance."

6. The authors do not encourage plastic surgery for patients with BDD, which can sometimes worsen the disorder. Cognitive behavioral therapy paired with antidepressants is the typical treatment for the disorder, along with "an empathetic and nonjudgmental approach by the clinician," the authors concluded.

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