TikTok and Plastic Surgery: A Worrying Trend

From dances to AI karaoke by beloved cartoon characters, TikTok has proven itself to be a major force behind some of the biggest and latest trends in culture. As one of the most influential global platforms out there, TikTok engages audiences–especially teenagers–like no other app out there. Due to the app’s ubiquity, TikTok has evolved into a popular platform for plastic surgeons and influencers to show off their work. They use the app to talk about various procedures, offer recovery tips, and show behind-the-scenes of clinic life. Cosmetic procedures such as buccal fat (cheek fat) removal have become “viral” trends on the app, prompting many like myself to question the ethics of promoting such drastic procedures to impressionable young users. 

Virtual living has had a big impact on the way we see ourselves, according to AAFPRS (American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery) facial plastic surgeons. 77% percent of AAFPRS members surveyed in 2022 said that looking good in selfies is still one of the top requests by patients, meaning that this trend of distorting one’s self-concept for the purpose of attaining some nebulous standard of beauty won’t be going away anytime soon.  

Dr. Corey Maas, president of AAFPRS, had this to say: “Unlike its predecessors, TikTok makes those static filters fluid, further blurring the lines between fantasy and reality […] TikTok technology has become so advanced, that a makeup filter can smooth pores and add lashes while remaining nearly undetectable to the untrained eye, especially when in movement.”

It’s especially worrisome when you look at how high the number of performed cosmetic procedures among young people has jumped. An estimated 1.4 million surgical and non-surgical face, head and neck procedures were performed in 2022, with AAFPRS members performing an average of 600 more procedures than they did in 2020–that’s a 40% percent increase. And according to a 2021 survey by ParentsTogether, teens who use beauty filters are far more likely to desire plastic surgery, a desire that is correlated with higher rates of low self worth.

When you look at the culture of cosmetic surgery promotion on TikTok, pushed heavily by arguably predatory plastic surgeons and influencers trying to push an unattainable standard, it’s not hard to see why so many people, teens and young adults in particular, are struggling with mental health and self-esteem. Getting cosmetic work done is a personal choice, and at the end of the day, you have the right to it–but for the sake of your self image, it’s always best to consider the nuances and consequences of social media’s influence on your desire for permanent change. 


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