Sunday, March 21, 2010

How to Choose A Cosmetic Clinic ........... So You Don’t Get Burnt and Scarred For Life

One of the most difficult tasks for someone who has decided that they would like to proceed with a cosmetic treatment to enhance their appearance is which cosmetic clinic to choose. The print and online media are saturated with advertisements of cosmetic clinics, each claiming to be the best. On the other hand, we have also read and heard of horror stories of cosmetic surgery gone horribly wrong. How does the lay consumer avoid becoming the next cosmetic treatment victim?

Naturally the best referral is word of mouth recommendation by someone you know who has undergone the treatment you are interested in. You can see the results with your own eyes and get your most pressing questions regarding cost and their experience answered. But the decision to seek cosmetic treatments is a very intimate and private one, and the majority of people will not admit that they have had ‘work’ done. In fact some would go to great lengths to hide their ‘work’, to give the impression that they are blessed with being naturally good looking.

So the decision on which clinic to choose is a solitary one, which many research online with some apprehension. Doing a google search gives you some idea of what the treatment is about, and the availability of cosmetic clinics in your area, which is a good start. An often overlooked tool is going on to professional organisations websites and checking out the cosmetic doctors in your state. While being a member of such organisations is associated with some degree of professional attainment, it is not a bullet proof way to eliminate the cosmetic cowboys in the industry.

When clicking on the links to the relevant websites, an important thing to check out is the biography of the cosmetic doctors and staff performing your treatments, to gauge their level of training and expertise. Websites that do not list specific names and details of practitioners other than stating that they are well trained, very experienced and the best, feel impersonal, vague and untrustworthy.

The most important decision making tool is your experience during the consultation. Your consultant should be very honest and upfront about the benefits and risks of the treatment proposed, and you should feel comfortable voicing your concerns and getting them answered to your satisfaction. Always trust your intuition, and this may involve going for a few consultations for more invasive and permanent surgical procedures.

Cost is also a valid issue to consider, but should not be your sole justification in choosing your practitioner. Beware of driving down the price too hard, as quality and experience are also important. If something is too cheap to be true, it probably is. For example, with anti-wrinkle injections, charges are typically $15-$20 per unit. If the price is too low, an inferior product could be used, the medication could be diluted down or the injector could be inexperienced. The best compromise would be a competitive price in a reputable clinic with an experienced practitioner.

It is a good idea to find out who will be doing your treatment, and their level of expertise. In general, most people would prefer their consulting doctor performing their treatments. This is perfectly understandable, although keep in mind that there are some excellent cosmetic nurses and aestheticians working alongside the doctor who maybe delegated to perform the procedure under medical supervision. For cosmetic injections performed by a registered nurse, the patient should have seen the doctor for an assessment first, and the injections should be performed in a registered cosmetic medical clinic. All the best cosmetic nurses in the industry usually work alongside doctors. Beware of rogue nurses that travel around and operate autonomously in salons without any medical supervision. Without a proper clinic with expert medical backup, who is going to manage your unforseen complications?

For intense pulse light (IPL) and laser treatments, find out what machines the practitioner is using and their level of expertise. The IPL and laser industry in Australia is mostly unregulated and anyone can buy a machine and set up their own laser hair removal clinic. There is talk of getting all users registered but that has not happened yet. At the very least, registration would ensure that minimum training and safety standards have been met. The doctor, nurse or aesthetician performing your IPL or laser treatment should be familiar with the limitations of their equipment to prevent a burn which can cause permanent scarring. Ask to see before and after pictures of clients they have treated during your consultation. Also be aware that not all machines are the same. There are cheaper machines from China for $20k that basically switches on and off only, to higher end technology costing over $200k. In general, the more expensive medical grade lasers are usually sold only to doctors, and these machines have treatment parameters that can be customised for each client, to maximise safety and efficacy.

Most important thing is to be realistic of results that can be achieved and the risks associated with your procedure. Be aware that side effects like bruising, swelling, discomfort, temporary discolouration etc are common after most treatments and should settle over time. This is routine in almost all cosmetic injections, lasers and operations, and does not mean that the practitioner is incompetent or negligent, which occurs when the doctor operates outside their boundary of training and expertise, or was careless when performing the treatment, resulting in permanent scarring or loss of function.

The following are links to professional organisations that are helpful to begin your research:
- Cosmetic Physicians Society of Australasia
- Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons
- Australasian College of Dermatologists
- Australasian College of Cosmetic Surgery

The article above reflects the views of the author only. Dr Christina Tan is an experienced cosmetic and laser physician based in Melbourne.

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