Lured by promises of cheaper prices and amazing results, thousands of people leave the US to undergo cosmetic surgery each year. They may head to the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela, Argentina, El Salvador, China, Syria, and Turkey for a virtual laundry list of surgical procedures.

And while such cosmetic surgery tourism may seem attractive based on lowe fees, some pay the ultimate price for their bargain shopping. Complications and rare infections resulting from subpar care delivered by unqualified physicians and facilities can, and do, occur. The Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have sounded off a warning about plastic surgery in the Dominican Republic after women from the East Coast became infected by a disfiguring bacteria following plastic surgery procedures done there.

Now, new research in the Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery sought to quantify the risks of cosmetic surgery tourism. The study included 78 patients (mostly women) who had sought care at a Boston hospital following plastic surgery performed abroad between 2010 and 2017. Three-quarters underwent procedures in the Dominican Republic. All the patients were American residents with an average age of 43. Many had been born in the country where they returned to for surgery. About 45 percent had undergone a tummy tuck, and a third had a breast enlargement. Other procedures included a breast lift or reduction, liposuction or injections of foreign substances such as silicone. About a quarter of these individuals underwent multiple procedures.

Nearly 10 percent of the patients sought corrective cosmetic surgery in the US after their procedure. Close to 18 percent developed serious infections; 18 percent had persistent pain; 8 percent had scarring; 15 percent had unhealed wounds, and 5 percent had internal scar tissue in their breast as a result of their initial surgery. Other issues included hernias, perforated bowels, and ruptured implants. Eight underwent emergency surgeries, the study showed.

Dr. Rizk responds:

These findings should give everyone pause. Cosmetic surgery is real surgery and it can be dangerous to choose a surgeon based on price alone.

The procedures I perform involve highly specialized techniques that I have trained for many years to learn. Above all, facelift, rhinoplasty and other delicate surgeries necessitate extensive expertise to master. You may get by with liposuction or breast augmentation in some cases, but when it comes to your face, the stakes are even higher for you to choose your surgeon wisely.

Undergoing cosmetic surgery in a foreign country may be less expensive, but the doctors may be underqualified and/or unqualified, and they may be cutting corners elsewhere which can put your health at risk. These procedures are elective and cosmetic, but that doesn’t mean they are risk-free – even in the best of hands. We cannot say that all non-US plastic surgeons are un- or under-qualified. There are many excellent surgeons all over the world – and many equally reputable surgical centers. However, the challenge is to find them. It’s not easy to vet physicians and facilities in other countries based on a website and patient reviews which may or may not be legitimate. The Internet can be wholly misleading and all of the ads gloss over the dangers. There may also be a language barrier that further impedes the ability to research doctors and surgical centers.

Other issues also make cosmetic surgery tourism a risky endeavor. For example, flying after surgery can increase the incidence of blood clots. To mitigate this risk, wait ten or more days after facelifts, eyelid surgery, nose reshaping, and browlifts to fly home.

There is also the question of what to do if you experience complications. Who will care for you at home? Who will pay for secondary or revision procedures? These are important considerations – and could also affect the bottom line cost.

If you are considering cosmetic surgery, cost should never be your main concern.