By Andrew M. Seaman
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - People who get facial plastic surgery may look younger than they did before the procedure, but that doesn't mean they're more attractive, according to a new study.
Researchers found that a group of independent reviewers thought plastic surgery patients looked about three years younger after their procedures than before. But their attractiveness ratings for the patients didn't change.
"It confirms what we suspected that patients will appear younger… However, we weren't able to determine a statistically significant improvement in attractiveness in face altering procedures," said Dr. Joshua Zimm, the study's lead author.
But Zimm, of the Lenox Hill Hospital and Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Institute of North Shore-LIJ Health System in New York, told Reuters Health the study's design may have limited his team's ability to pick up differences in attractiveness.
Previous studies have found that people who have facial plastic surgery - such as face or chin lifts - end up looking a few years younger than they did before their procedure, but none have looked at whether they end up being more attractive.
"When we do a consultation with a patient, we're often very careful not to say they'll look much younger or more attractive… Typically we'll tell patients they'll look more refreshed and less tired," Zimm said.
For the new study, he and his colleagues showed 50 independent reviewers photographs of 49 patients before and at least six months after their facial plastic surgeries, which happened between 2006 and 2010.
Each reviewer saw a before or after photo of every patient and was told to guess the patient's age and rate his or her attractiveness on a scale from 1 to 10.
On average, the reviewers believed people were about 2.1 years younger than they actually were in their "before" photographs. On their "after" pictures, reviewers guessed they were 5.2 years younger than their actual age.
That worked out to about a three-year reduction in a person's perceived age, according to findings published in JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery.
There was no difference, however, in how the reviewers rated patients' attractiveness in before and after photos.
"I think there are a lot of points in this study that sort of temper our result on the attractiveness score," Zimm said.
For example, the study only included photographs of a small number of patients, most patients were rated in the middle of a 10-point attractiveness scale and reviewers only saw either the before or after photos of each person.
"I think all of those factors led to an underestimation of the results," Zimm said. "It's certainly not a definitive answer on attractiveness."
According to The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, facelifts typically run for close to $7,000 and eyelid work and forehead lifts for about $3,000 each.
Dr. Steven Bonawitz, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, said the results make sense.
"I think it may be surprising to a lot of people thinking about these operations, but as I thought about it I wasn't terribly surprised," said Bonawitz, who wasn't involved with the new study.
"The procedures they did are generally done as rejuvenating procedures. They're done to make people look younger," he said.
"It's important in discussing these procedures with patients that we describe them appropriately."
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/135LhTw JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery, online August 1, 2013.