Are Discounted Cosmetic Procedures Dangerous?

Cosmetic treatments aren’t cheap. According to a study by American Society of Plastic Surgery, the largest plastic surgery specialty organization in the world, patients spent upward of $26 billion on both minimally invasive and surgical procedures in the United States in 2022. That could work out to multiple procedures per person. For instance: In New York, dermal fillers cost between $500 and $1,200 per syringe with a recommendation of at least two syringes and a refresh every three to six months, totaling anywhere from $4,000 to $9,600 a year. With demand at an all-time high (cosmetic surgery procedures are up 19 percent from 2019, according to the same study), it’s no wonder that some people are turning to discount platforms such as Groupon for cheaper cosmetic and minimally invasive procedures.

Clinics all over the world use these sites to promote lower-price services and bring in new customers, but it sometimes comes at a cost. According to Michael Keyes, MD, board-eligible plastic surgeon and founder of Celebrity Plastics, some patients have experienced serious side effects from discounted services and seek professional help in attempts to correct a botched procedure, request a reversal, mitigate any further side effects, and help better manage expectations. Yet, deals are still routinely offered on various platforms, with hundreds of treatments purchased at lower rates.

Why Do Some Doctors or Clinics Provide Discounted Services?

Doctors or clinics offer discounted services to appeal to a wider patient pool, in hopes of advertising their services, getting clients in the door, and gaining their loyalty, further increasing sales. Across industries, there are three simple steps to becoming a merchant on Groupon: complete an intake form, create a merchant account, and work with the self-service digital Groupon campaign manager to curate the deal. You are required to list your business name, address, and phone number in the intake form.

For step two, you set up a username and password. And for step three, you supply your website URL, and list of services you provide (waxing, microneedling, laser, etc). From there, the campaign manager builds out the next step: your about me page, details on the deal, and the fine print — all of which you can adjust if need be. Once these three steps are done, Groupon takes a day to review the details and then either approve — at which point you’d then pay a publishing fee — or follows up for additional clarity.

It is unclear how vigorously the platform vets its providers. PS reached out to Groupon for comment on the process and has not received a response yet. A couple of businesses that I pooled on the platform that requested to remain anonymous said they didn’t experience any follow-up when joining, noting that the sign-up process was fairly easy. Not having a business myself, I completed all three steps with fake information in 14 minutes.

Jennifer Levine, MD, a world-renowned facial plastic surgeon, says that while providing a discounted service doesn’t indicate incompetence, it may suggest a lack of experience.

“You are not paying only for the service, but the education and training of the provider,” says Ramtin Kassir, MD, triple board certified facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon and founder of Kassir Plastic Surgery and Inside Beauty. “Complications can be higher when inexperienced individuals offer discounted services. This doesn’t negate the possibility of complications in experienced hands but generally occurs less frequently.”

Dr. Kassir put it this way: it’s the difference between choosing a pilot with minimal flight hours versus a seasoned pro — tenure experience is a fundamental consideration for safety.

What Are the Downsides of Discounted Services?

While getting a great deal can be enticing, it’s important to carefully consider the risks. “Products are expensive,” Dr. Levine says, referring to injectables, prescription treatments, and equipment. “If someone is charging less than the product actually costs, that indicates that something is wrong.” Equally, it could mean the product is damaged, expired, a counterfeit, or of low quality — posing strong risks to your health and well-being.

All the experts agreed that as aesthetic services are medical procedures, there should be no cutting corners. “I’ve dealt with cases ranging from vascular occlusions due to improperly administered fillers to burns from laser treatments conducted with subpar equipment or technique, and poor outcomes from plastic surgeries, such as significant contour irregularities from liposuction or grossly overfilled and disproportionate Brazilian Butt Lifts,” Dr. Keyes says. “These complications often arise from clinics prioritizing lower costs (and more profits) over patient safety and professional standards. Patients have to understand it costs practices money to ensure having the best equipment, newest technologies, safest medications, and qualified staffing. A portion of those costs have to get passed on to the patient or the business wouldn’t be solvent.”

In addition to plastic surgery (liposuction, butt lifts, and the like), they stressed avoiding injectables, microneedling, and any type of laser. “No one should discount their face,” Dr. Levine says. Each procedure could risk bleeding, infections, vascular occlusion, scarring, nerve damage, and more. “Complications can happen anywhere, but it is the recognition and management [often found in highly experienced doctors] of that complication that is most important,” she says.

With cost-saving services, consultations typically take place via video chat and patients sometimes only meet the doctor on the day of surgery, suggesting that the treatment might not be customized to your unique needs and facial structure. Plastic surgeons should consider your individual concerns and goals, ensuring the treatment is specifically tailored to the individual. With slashed pricing, you might not receive the personalized care and attention required for safe and effective results.

Are There Any Procedures Safe Enough For Discounted Services?

RealSelf board-certified facial plastic surgeon, Benjamin Caughlin, MD, says that even the simplest of products or services (like microneedling) can be dangerous if done improperly, so it’s better to go with a reputable provider and do your research. “Procedures that inherently involve medical risk, alter the body’s structure, or require anesthesia should always be performed by a licensed plastic surgeon,” Dr. Keyes says. Think: liposuction, breast augmentations, rhinoplasty, and other invasive cosmetic surgeries. “Certified aestheticians can perform more superficial treatments such as facials, superficial chemical peels, and basic microneedling, provided they operate within the scope of their certification and training.”

In the end, if you are considering a discounted procedure, make sure you have all the facts. The experts encourage in-depth research on the provider, reviews of previous and on-going patients, and insurance of their credentials, like that an expert is board-certified. You should also ask to see before and after photos, and how they deal with complications if they come up.

As a general rule of thumb, always have an in-person consultation with the doctor who will be conducting the surgery — it’s important to be on the same page in terms of procedure, after-care, expectations, and goals. And most importantly, any surgery center that offers in-office procedures must be accredited by the American Association for Accreditation of Ambulatory Surgical Facilities (AAAA) to ensure it’s safe, sterile, and up-to-date. Centers that fail to produce this distinction may not provide adequate health and safety inspections. There are many reputable clients that provide patients with different financing options if financial commitment is your top concern in selecting a service.

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