Study Finds Cosmetic Surgery Is No Miracle

Face-lifts, brow-lifts, eyelid surgery: All commonly trumpeted as little miracles that turn back the clock. But a new study, published online in JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery and featured in the New York Times, found that not only does cosmetic surgery make you look a mere three years younger, it also has limited power to make you seem more attractive. Bad news for plastic surgeons and their needle-hungry clients?

The study, led by Dr. A. Joshua Zimm, a facial plastic surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, asked 50 participants to look at photos of 49 people aged 42 to 73 who had undergone a face-lift, brow-lift, or eyelid surgery. No one was shown the pre- and post-procedural photos of the same person. On average, clients pre-procedure were estimated to be 2.1 years younger than their actual age; the same clients post-procedure were estimated to be 5.2 years younger than their actual age — a difference of 3.1 years. This is a far cry from some surgeons' claims that they can erase a decade from a client's face.

Perhaps more significantly, the people in the post-procedure photos were not rated as more attractive — all photos received an average between 4 and 6 points on a scale of 1 to 10. Zimm himself was surprised by the “insignificant finding for attractiveness," reports the New York Times.

While this is a pretty impressive study — and findings that might disappoint the more than 120,000 Americans who got face-lifts last year— age and attractiveness are still pretty hard to quantify. This might even make clients and doctors more surgery-crazed, cautions Newport Beach plastic surgeon Dr. Val Lambros. One surgeon might claim, “My operation makes people look 4.2 years younger” while another says, “Mine makes patients look like Girl Scouts," says Lambros. What it all comes down to is that a face-lift can't truly turn back the clock. It might make you look like you had a good night's sleep, but, at least for now, it would take a real miracle to make you look a decade younger.