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Cut-Price Cosmetic Surgery: Is it Worth the Risk?

21/08/2014 15:37 BST | Updated 21/10/2014 10:59 BST

From tummy tucks to facial fillers, there are plenty of tempting deals out there for British bargain hungers looking for a spot of cosmetic 'improvement'. One of the lasting effects of the recent economic crisis is that many of us expect to pay less these days for, well, just about everything. And cosmetic surgery is no exception.

Clinics and surgeries around the country are offering cut-price deals, especially at this body-conscious time of year (think summer specials for the nip and tuck market). And as for voucher websites such as Groupon, the potential savings can be jaw dropping: Groupon, to take just one example, is currently offering members up to 70 percent off cosmetic surgery.

The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) is fighting these time-linked 'buy now' marketing promotions and group deals, arguing they should be banned. Yet major discounts are still available, the BAAPS admits, with 52 percent of the highest Google-ranking aesthetic plastic surgery providers still offering promotional deals, according to a study published in the Journal of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery in May.

"If cosmetic surgery is being offered at a discounted rate, it is either because corners are being cut in order to save money, or because the clinic is making an extreme profit in the first instance," says BAAPS council member Kevin Hancock.

"Cosmetic surgery is still 'proper' surgery - like any other operation - and should never be commoditised via vouchers or time-linked incentives."

According to Nigel Mercer, President-Elect of the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons, deals and discounts in this market put too much pressure on patients. "To offer a 'beach-ready body for the summer' is not ethical," he explains. "This shows marketing at its worst."

One of the problems with such deals is they don't leave enough time for anyone to research - or indeed, understand - the risks involved (let's not forget, as with any type of surgery, there are always risks).

Take the example of liposuction - a cosmetic surgery procedure that's becoming increasingly popular. According to the NHS, while it's generally a safe procedure and problems are rare, you could end up with side effects including bad bruising, swelling, inflammation, fluid coming from the incisions, scarring, swollen ankles and thrombophlebitis (inflammation of the vein).

Then there are potential complications, including infection and excessive bleeding, lumpy skin, numbness and skin colour changes, not to mention blood clot (thrombosis), pulmonary embolism (a blockage in the artery that carries blood from the heart to the lungs that's potentially fatal), pulmonary oedema (where fluid builds up in the lungs) and damage to internal organs caused by the procedure itself.

And that's before giveaway deals are forcing surgeons to cut corners.

Plus with so many new types of liposuction available today - Micro Lipo, Smart Lipo, Cool Lipo, Lipo Lite, Lipo Therme... the variations seem endless - it's more important than ever to take the time to research the exact risks before you take the plunge.

For instance, with Vaser Lipo - a cosmetic procedure aimed largely at men because of the way it seeks to 'mould' areas of fat and muscle - one of the most important things to investigate is the surgeon who's going to be 'resculpting' you. After all, anything less than masterful handling of the ultrasonic probe and your six-pack could head south and turn out more like a waistband-free muffin top.

The risks associated with ordinary liposuction all apply too, plus there's an added risk with Vaser Lipo of second- or third-degree burns, thanks to the use of ultrasound waves to emulsify fat in the deep and superficial layers of the skin (standard liposuction uses other methods of fat cells break-down).

So how does that cut-price Vaser Lipo offer look now? Still tempted?

The UK government's 2013 report, the Review of the Regulation of Cosmetic Interventions chaired by NHS Medical Director Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, has already condemned time-linked incentives, group deals and other inducements to buy cheap cosmetic procedures. So why are such deals still so widely available?

"Surgery should never be subject to cut-price campaigns or cheap offers, it is too important," says Dr Judy Evans, council member of the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh. "After the Keogh report it is especially shocking that this is still going on. We need parliament to pass the laws that were promised to make this sort of thing illegal."

Until that happens, the truth is that cut-price cosmetic surgery deals will continue to thrive as long as we, the public, keep demanding them.