Are cosmetic procedures becoming normalised for young Australians?

Australians spend millions of dollars every year on cosmetic procedures, and younger generations are increasingly among the ranks of those willing devote their paychecks to changing their physical appearance.

What sort of procedures are they getting? Are there risks involved? Do newer generations view such changes more openly than in the past?

As the availability of cosmetic procedures and their social pervasiveness increases, has altering your looks become the norm for young people?

Insight investigates this week. 

The procedures

Cosmetic procedures - both surgical and non-surgical - are steadily increasing in popularity in Australia, and around the world.

While we may think of phrases that people throw around like “plastic surgery” and “cosmetic work” as fairly interchangeable, there are differences in the procedures and why they’re being done.

Plastic surgery is focused on repairing a physical defect, or to return a body part to normal function or appearance, whereas cosmetic surgery is all about enhancing appearance.

An easy distinction is to consider breast implants. If a woman has had breast cancer, and her breast tissue has been removed, she may want to have a breast reconstruction. Another woman may choose to have a breast augmentation, purely to enhance her appearance and change the size of her breasts. The procedures are fairly similar, but the motivation changes how it is categorised.

In Australia, we don’t keep specific records of how many cosmetic surgeries take place, but looking at US data we can see that the total number of surgical and non-surgical procedures have more than doubled since 2000.

This week on Insight:
Picture Perfect
Are cosmetic procedures being normalised for young people?

The fastest growing area of cosmetic work is in non-surgical enhancements. In Australia we know that procedures like dermal fillers for cheeks and lips, or anti-wrinkle injections such as Botox, are fast becoming the most popular choice for people looking to enhance their appearance. In 2015, Australians spent over $1billion on non-surgical cosmetic procedures  - up from $773 million in 2012.

In the US, the surgeries that have seen the most considerable growth include: breast lifts (up 89 per cent from 2000); buttock lifts (up 252 per cent since 2000); and lower body lifts (up 3973 per cent since 2000).

Likewise, labiaplasty has also seen a marked increase in recent years. In 2014 the Australian Department of Health’s vulvoplasty report noted that from 2003 to 2013, Medicare claims for vulvoplasty and labiaplasty more than doubled from 744 to 1588 procedures performed. These figures only represent the number of women who were able to claim on their surgeries, and therefore researchers, including Insight guest, Gemma Sharp, predict the true number to be much higher. 

Further reading
How much are Australians spending on cosmetic procedures?
A single session of Botox can cost up to $300, while more serious cosmetic procedures such as rhinoplasty (nose-job) can take a hefty $20,000 out of your wallet.

Changing attitudes

While cosmetic work may have been something that was talked about behind closed doors, previously, younger Australians appear to have a much more casual attitude towards cosmetic procedures - particularly non-surgical options such as injectables.

Kurt Coleman, one of the guests on Insight’s Picture Perfect episode said he first had lip injections at 18 “because...I thought it would just be fun to try.”

“I never thought… I hate what I look like, I’m going to get this done. It was just like a tiny thing that I tried. ”  

Kurt compares getting fillers to changing your hairstyle or hair colour, pointing out that both treatments are small, and temporary, but can make a big difference to your overall appearance.

Likewise, Rita Abdul, 22, has spent $15,000 on lip fillers and anti-wrinkle injections in the last two years, and describes herself as “plastic positive”.

Rita shares videos of her treatments through social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, and says it’s important for her to be honest about what work she gets done.

“I feel like it’s very empowering to say that yes, this is not 100 per cent me, that I did not wake up like that a couple of years ago.”

Rita believes that in general, people are much more comfortable talking about their cosmetic work, more openly.

“Now people are confident and able to say that ‘yes, I get work done’.”

Anecdotally, cosmetic clinicians have noticed a change in the number of young people seeking injectable treatments, and note the more casual attitude they have towards the procedures. Cosmetic nurse, Aska Lagodko says she sees clients under 25 “most days of the week.” 

“Ever since...the whole Kylie Jenner trent show on TV, I have younger patients coming in with the picture of Kylie Jenner and asking me to do similar enhancements.”

What are the risks?

The rise of injectable treatments for young people comes as a shock to some, including clinical psychologist, Sarah McMahon, who is concerned about the normalising of cosmetic procedures for teenagers.

Speaking to the members of Insight’s audience who say they chose to have cosmetic work to help their self-confidence, McMahon points out that our society encourages us to fix ourselves in order to fit in.

“I think we need to be talking about, when we’re thinking about 18 [years] and under ... is the right to childhood and right to feel safe in your own skin,”

“Where does this stop and where do we draw the line?”

But as well as the psychological risks, there are very real medical considerations that should be taken into account before going ahead with both surgical and non-surgical procedures.

From October 1, 2016, the Medical Board of Australia will be introducing new guidelines, to make sure patients have enough time to think through their decisions. The guidelines include, but are not limited to:


  • a seven-day cooling off period for all adults before major procedures, such as breast augmentations and rhinoplasty

  • a three-month cooling off period before major procedures for all under 18s and a mandatory evaluation by a registered psychologist, general practitioner or psychiatrist

  • a seven day cooling off period before minor procedures, such as injectables, and laser skin treatment for all under 18s, and when clinically indicated, evaluation by a registered psychologist, general practitioner or psychiatrist


Regardless of whether or not cosmetic work is becoming normalised for younger people, Vice President of the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons, Dr Gazi Hussein, says it’s important for a patient to “process the magnitude and nature of what they were getting themselves into, but also have been able to process the potential risks.”


Insight looks at the extent to which cosmetic procedures are being normalised for young people | Picture Perfect | Catch up online now: