No one really wants to have surgery if they don’t need it; therefore, it isn’t surprising that cosmetic surgeons are asked quite often how someone can get surgical results without actually having surgery. Well, it certainly sounds good . . surgical results without surgery, right? The problem is that it really doesn’t work that way. The long and the short of it is in order to get the dramatic results of surgery, you have to have surgery. But with all of the new non- and minimally-invasive treatment options that have become available in recent years, the answer isn’t always so cut and dry, and there are options. It is not a matter of good versus bad, but really understanding the differences between the surgical and the non-surgical options, and figuring out which one is going to best help you achieve your goals.
The facial region is the area with the greatest number of non-surgical options, from Botox® to dermal fillers and chemical peels to lasers and micro-needling. Non-surgical treatments can be quite effective in the face when you are treating the right problem. Botox® does a wonderful job of temporarily softening wrinkles in the forehead, between the brows, and the sides of the eyes. Dermal fillers can plump up the cheeks and minimize creases around the mouth. Skin products, in-office chemical peels, Intense Pulsed Light (IPL), micro-needling, and lasers can do a superb job of improving the fine wrinkles, texture, and pigment in the skin. However, if you are looking to reduce the jowls, tighten the neck or lift droopy brows or eyelids, then non-surgical treatments won’t provide the results that you seek. It is extremely common patients will undergo a blend of surgical and non-surgical procedures to take advantage of the strengths of both. In younger patients who are not yet ready for surgery, non-surgical options may provide them exactly what they want.
For breast augmentation, the surgical versus non-surgical comparison doesn’t work, because there really aren’t non-surgical options to do the things that patients want. At the present time you can’t increase the breast size, reduce the breast size, or lift up drooping breasts without surgery. In the breast, though, the discussion is often around full length or reduced incision approaches. Like non-surgical treatments, reduced scar approaches sound really positive – and of course who wouldn’t want that? However, in some cases a full scar approach is required to get the degree of results that a patient wants or needs.
Only recently have significant non-surgical options emerged for treatment of the abdomen, flanks, and thighs. These treatments are directed at two primary goals – reducing the fatty layers and tightening the skin. Infrared therapy, external ultrasound, and cryolipolysis (fat freezing) are all energy devices approved to reduce the thickness of the fatty layer. CoolSculpting® is a fat freezing treatment currently available, and it is the treatment that we have chosen to offer at the Emory Aesthetic Center due to the level of comfort experienced by patients and the medical studies that support its use. But not all patients get the results that they seek. And while a few patients don’t seem to achieve much of a result, a small number of patients are “super-responders” who can get a dramatic result, sometimes with just one treatment. But overall, most patients will see a 10-20 percent improvement in an area with a single treatment, but for additional improvement they will need repeat treatments. Liposuction is the surgical counterpart to fat freezing. Not surprisingly, liposuction allows us to treat more areas at a time, be more aggressive in fat removal, and depending on the number of areas to treat and the number of CoolSculpting® sessions, sometimes liposuction can be less expensive as well.
At this point, non-surgical treatments seem to do a better job at fat removal than skin tightening. For this reason, there isn’t much in the way of non-surgical options for patients that may have significant skin laxity, for example when they need a tummy tuck or thigh lift. In these instances, surgical resection can be combined with liposuction to not only tighten the skin, but to sculpt the tissues as well. It is because of this combined strategy that tummy tucks, for instance, can produce some of the most dramatic improvements of any of the surgeries that plastic surgeons perform. However, if a patient is young and has generally good skin quality, with limited fatty deposits, fat freezing without the need for surgery can be a great option.
To pull it all together, there are some things that surgery can do that non-surgical treatments simply can’t do. In other cases non-surgical treatments can be highly effective and can provide for you the results you want – without the need for a surgical procedure or significant recovery period. What is best for you depends on your specific appearance, your tissues, and your goals. At the Emory Aesthetic Center, we are happy to be able to offer the entire spectrum of surgical and non-surgical options. Our board-certified physicians can work with you to determine the best solution for you and your desired result.
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About Dr. Eaves
Dr. Eaves recently returned to Atlanta, Georgia, to head the Emory Aesthetic Center as Medical Director, having previously completed his plastic surgery residency as well as a fellowship in endoscopic and minimally invasive plastic surgery at Emory University, The Emory Clinic, and associated hospitals. Before joining the Emory Aesthetic Center, Dr. Eaves was a partner in Charlotte Plastic Surgery for more than fifteen years and served as group president from 2010-2012.
His professional and institutional committee memberships and offices include an impressive list of national, international and local plastic surgery organizations, societies, boards, task forces, advisory councils, coalitions and foundations, including having served as President of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) from 2010-2011 and Trustee (2011-Present).
Dr. Eaves’ primary areas of academic inquiry have been in minimally-invasive and endoscopic aesthetic surgery, patient safety, system and process improvement in plastic surgery, evidence-based medicine applied to plastic surgery and recontouring surgery after massive weight loss. He has received several patents for new medical devices he developed, and has made major clinical service contributions to his field. Dr. Eaves has published more than 100 articles, book chapters and book reviews on plastic surgery in peer reviewed publications, as well as manuals, videos, computer programs and other teaching aids and has coauthored the first textbook on the topic of endoscopic plastic surgery.