More and more seniors are opting to reclaim a bit of their youth by undergoing plastic surgery procedures. From facelifts to liposuction, eyelid surgery and even breast implants, independent seniors are brushing aside concerns about age and taking advantage of the opportunities available to them.

While many believe age is just a number, others worry this surge in plastic surgery for seniors could be dangerous. They wonder, how old is too old for cosmetic procedures? And how do these procedures impact senior health?

Why Is Plastic Surgery On the Rise Among Seniors?

A 2010 consumer survey conducted by the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery found that nearly 80 percent of seniors over the age of 65 would consider undergoing a cosmetic procedure. What’s more, statistics reveal the number of plastic surgery procedures actually performed on seniors has been on the rise in recent years. So what’s fueling this trend among older Americans and why is it likely to continue?

  • Economics. The National Council on Aging reports baby boomers are working longer. The group predicts by the year 2019, 40 percent of Americans age 55 and over will be working. In a recent survey conducted by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 73 percent of women said they believed physical appearance and youthful looks played a part in hiring.
  • Attitude Changes. “In the old days, maybe 10 to 15 years ago, there was a real stigma about plastic surgery,” says Gregory Borah, MD, Professor and Chief Division of Plastic Surgery at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey. That attitude has changed, making plastic surgery a more appealing option for those of all ages.
  • Longer Life Expectancy. Since the 1970s, life expectancy rates have been on the rise for both males and females, according to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Today’s seniors are healthier and more active, and they want their physical self to more closely match their mental age. Many are turning to plastic surgery as a way to look as young as they feel.
  • Advancements in Technology and Techniques. Anesthesia is safer nowadays and surgical techniques have advanced. Researchers from the Cleveland Clinic reviewed the medical records of patients who had undergone facelifts during a three-year period and discovered complications occurred no more frequently in older patients than in younger ones.
  • Other Benefits. Older patients who undergo plastic surgery procedures may reap benefits that go beyond the obvious physical ones. Over ten years ago, Borah and Dr. Marlene Rankin did a landmark study on the psychological benefits of cosmetic surgery. “We looked at a variety of plastic surgeries and rated things like patient satisfaction and quality of life both before surgery and after surgery,” says Borah. They found plastic surgery produced positive, long-term psychological benefits and improved quality of life in the patients they followed.

How Safe is Plastic Surgery for Seniors?

“As long as realistic expectations are set and any health issues older adults may have are under control, these patients generally do pretty well,” says Borah. “Most plastic surgery procedures aren’t usually big operations, they are basically skin deep.”

Borah believes seniors should be carefully evaluated to ensure their health is good and that they fully understand the implications of surgery. “The oldest patient I’ve had was 92,” he recalls. “She came to me wanting breast augmentation. She had always wanted it but her husband wasn’t in favor of it. When he passed, she spent the insurance money on it. She said she wanted to look good.”

He admits he spent more than the usual amount of time counseling this patient, but ultimately, he performed the surgery. “She was in good health and knew what she wanted, and in the end she was happy with the results.”