Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Guide to cosmetic surgery

6-minute read

Many people in Australia consider having cosmetic surgery to improve how they feel about their appearance. It can be confusing when you look at all the different information about cosmetic surgery and try to understand what is best for you. This article provides what you need to know and the questions you need to ask.

What is cosmetic surgery?

Cosmetic surgery is done to re-shape or change an otherwise healthy part of the body because a person believes it will improve their appearance, not for a medical reason.

Reconstructive surgery differs from cosmetic surgery in that it is designed to restore the appearance or function of a part of the body, such as after an accident or trauma, cancer, birth defect or disease.

Who can perform cosmetic surgery?

Cosmetic surgery can be carried out by plastic surgeons or by cosmetic surgeons.

Plastic surgeons can also do reconstructive surgery for people whose bodies have suffered damage in some way.

What is the difference between plastic surgeons and cosmetic surgeons?

There is a significant difference between cosmetic surgeons and plastic surgeons.

To become a plastic surgeon, a doctor must — after they qualify as a doctor — do at least another 5 years of training and study through the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) to obtain a specialist qualification recognised by the Australian Government.

By contrast, any doctor can call themselves a cosmetic surgeon — without any further training after their initial medical training or any specialist qualification. It is legal for any doctor to perform many cosmetic surgery procedures.

Should I speak to a GP before having cosmetic surgery?

You should speak to your GP before having cosmetic surgery, since your GP is best placed to help you manage your overall health. If cosmetic surgery is an option for you, your GP can help you to plan cosmetic surgery safely and find a suitable surgeon.

What questions should I ask before I have cosmetic surgery?

There are many things to consider before you decide to have surgery of any kind. After you have spoken with your GP, you should consider asking your surgeon some general questions about what is involved and what are the risks, both of the surgery and the anaesthetic.

You should also consider asking the doctor performing the procedure some more specific questions if you are considering cosmetic surgery, such as:

  • What are your qualifications?
  • How many times have you performed this procedure, and how often do you do it?
  • What are the risks of this procedure?
  • How many people have experienced complications when you have performed this procedure and what were they?
  • Are there any alternative options to this procedure?
  • What kind of anaesthetic will I be given, and who will give it? What qualifications do they have?
  • What care will I need after the procedure and who will give it?
  • What will it cost and what do those costs cover?

You can also use the Question Builder tool to create your question list for the appointment. Prepare your list, then print or email it so you remember what you want to ask.

Body image and cosmetic surgery

There is a great deal of pressure on how we look. From an early age, the media and people around us help form the image we have of our bodies. In Australia, women with thin bodies are often described as being attractive; athletic men are often referred to as handsome.

These kinds of images are common in magazines, newspapers and online. But they do not reflect the bodies of most people, and this can lead to having unrealistic expectations and low self-esteem.

It is important to reflect on your reasons for wanting cosmetic surgery. It might help to think about:

  • Who am I having the procedure for? Is it for myself or am I trying to make myself more attractive for someone else?
  • Have I understood what is involved? It might be more helpful to speak to a person who has had the procedure rather than to read a brochure.
  • Have I discussed it with a friend or family member?
  • Have I been influenced by advertising or a low advertised price?
  • Have I considered alternatives to cosmetic surgery?

What are some alternatives to cosmetic surgery?

You should think carefully about other options before deciding to have cosmetic surgery.

In some instances, non-surgical skin treatments and injectable fillers can be used for cosmetic purposes. There may be other ways to enhance your appearance or improve your self-esteem. There are also non-surgical alternatives to improving your appearance, such as exercise and diet programs.

How can I choose a qualified surgeon?

The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) has a register of qualified medical practitioners in Australia.

You can search the AHPRA database for a particular doctor by name to see whether the doctor is a specialist plastic surgeon. If your doctor is not a specialist plastic surgeon, they may still be able to do cosmetic surgery. However, you need to understand that they do not have the same qualifications as a specialist.

The AHPRA register will also tell you if your doctor is facing any serious disciplinary action.

The Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons has a list of all qualified specialist plastic surgeons in Australia. The Australasian College of Cosmetic Surgery also has lists of people who practise cosmetic surgery — but not all of them are qualified specialist surgeons.

Considering cosmetic surgery overseas?

Some people consider having cosmetic surgery overseas because it may cost less than in Australia. However, there may be many problems with this. For example, it can be very difficult to get good information about the qualifications and experience of a doctor in another country.

Australia has a reliable national registry of doctors and plastic surgeons. Also, if you are having a procedure close to home, you can ask to see the facilities where the surgery will be done you have the surgery. And it is easier to contact the person who performed the surgery if you have any problems during your recovery and to visit your GP if necessary.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2021

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Cosmetic Tourism - Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons

The lure of overseas treatment is often based on price. However, medical tourism raises some safety and financial concerns for Australian patients.

Read more on Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons website

ANZCA | Anaesthesia and cosmetic surgery

This information has been developed by accredited specialist anaesthetists to help anyone who is considering cosmetic surgery in Australia or New Zealand. It will help you to understand the risks associated with anaesthesia, and the key questions you should ask before having a cosmetic procedure.

Read more on ANZCA – Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists website

Women and genital cosmetic surgery | Women's Health Victoria

Read more on Women's Health Victoria website

Spotlight on cosmetic surgery and women's health | Women's Health Victoria

Read more on Women's Health Victoria website

Facelift (meloplasty) - Better Health Channel

A facelift is a type of cosmetic surgery that removes or tightens facial skin to make a person look younger.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Cosmetic procedures - Better Health Channel

Cosmetic surgery carries risks and, in some cases, the results are not what you may anticipate.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Abdominoplasty (tummy tuck) - Better Health Channel

A 'tummy tuck', or abdominoplasty, is cosmetic surgery to remove fat and excess loose skin from the abdomen.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Will Medicare Cover my Procedure? - Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons

Medicare has announced significant changes to plastic surgery item numbers on the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) that were effective from 1/11/18.

Read more on Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons website

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) - Better Health Channel

People with body dysmorphic disorder constantly worry about the way they look.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Reconstructive surgery - Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons

Reconstructive surgery includes Breast Reconstruction, Burns and Scarring (scar revision), Cleft Lip Palate, Hand Surgery and Skin Cancer.

Read more on Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.