Plastic Surgery Gone Bad: How Common?

ABC News retold the story of Korean plastic surgery addict who used a syringe with cooking oil to inject her own face. While this is an extreme case, how frequently do you see bad plastic surgery? What are the most common cases and causes?

Doctor Answers 6


It is always a touchy subject to discuss bad surgery. Surgery can have a bad outcome for many reasons:

  1. Adverse effects can happen to anyone, regardless of the surgery or doctor. Things like infections, drug reactions, implant rejections or skin necrosis (wound healing problems) can happen to anyone. I always say that if you do not want any risk of complications then don't have surgery.
  2. Adverse effects can happen because of poor patient selection. Many patients actually do not help themselves toward a positive outcome. These type of patients include smokers, drug abusers and patients who are morbidly obese.
  3. The main reason patients love to complain (and lawyers love to sue) is poor outcomes as a result a physicians treatment.

Now, most doctors are brilliant hard-working caring surgeons who try their best. In most circumstances everything turns out great, but sometimes treatment plans are sound but judgement in the amount of skin excised or the angle of pull is off. These are things that can easily be corrected by the attending physician.

Often, patients expect perfection immediately after surgery and then transfer their disappointment into anger towards their doctor. In that case, they will often see another surgeon to perform the minor corrections even though their first doctor is capable of the correction.

Other outcomes may, in a small group, be the result of of the doctor not demonstrating a caring attitude toward the patient. As a result, treatment plans may not reflect that which is most beneficial for the patient. These are the cases that give doctors the worst problems as a group. It is sort of like letting a bad apple spoil the entire bushel.

In my practice, I see many patients that fit into all of these groups. I start my treatment with understanding and compassion. For those that I choose to help (those that have reasonable expectations and are willing to help themselves), I finish with a well-tailored plan for a successful outcome.

New York Plastic Surgeon
4.8 out of 5 stars 33 reviews

Plastic Surgery Gone Bad

Fortunately this is not very common, but it does happen. Many physicians with no surgical training whatsoeever can legally refer to themselves as plastic surgeon. It is critically impoirtant for people to do their homework. I have designed a short questionairre that I believe might be of assistance when people are considering surgery.

Michael Law, MD
Raleigh-Durham Plastic Surgeon
4.8 out of 5 stars 118 reviews

Not too often

Fortunately, most surgeons are very competent and the majority of patients get good to excellent results. On the other hand, patients do seek me out for revisions of many types of aesthetic surgery.  But, the % of patients that fall into this category in my practice is very low.

Steven Wallach, MD
New York Plastic Surgeon
4.1 out of 5 stars 29 reviews

Plastic surgery gone bad: Don't be fooled

While the patient in your question injected herself, it is still a good question to inquire about bad plastic surgery. My first suggestion if you are considering surgery is to go to someone trained specifically in plastic surgery.

There are many people out there claiming that they are surgeons or cosmetic surgeons who don't even have medical degrees. There is no good regulation about who can do procedures, especially if people are doing it in their private offices. If it seem suspicious, then it probably is. If the price seems to good, then there is probably something wrong. If you are being pressured to sign up for a procedure, then I would worry.

For the most part, I see inferior results from people who tried doing a procedure that they were not trained to do. Additionally, I see many patients returning from plastic surgery vacations where they left the country with the intention of getting a good deal on plastic surgery. Then they return home and now they need everything fixed. I hope this is helpful.

David Shafer, MD
New York Plastic Surgeon
4.9 out of 5 stars 75 reviews

Plastic Surgery Gone Bad?

There are a great number of very qualified Board certified Facial Plastic Surgeons and Plastic Surgeons in this country who are technically skilled and practice ethically.  Ethical practice includes a well performed procedure and thorough follow up.  Really "bad" results often stem from inadequate follow up and therefore a lack of timely intervention when a problem exists.  A case in point would be a patient who travels abroad for a Facelift, develops a hematoma which is left untreated, and subsequently develops an infection.  This is less likely to happen in the United States, but still eminently possible. This pertains more to high dollar marketing, low intensity follow up surgical mills. The second category of "bad" results pertains to improper use of materials in the face or body, by individuals who are not trained.  The circumstance of the "cooking oil injections' would fit into this category.  Prospective patients need to do their homework, choose a Surgeon with great local referrals and credentials, and avoid "to-good-to-be-true" marketing.

Stephen Prendiville, MD
Fort Myers Facial Plastic Surgeon
4.8 out of 5 stars 93 reviews

Bad plastic surgery can be avoided by doing research

As you mention, the case of someone injecting themselves with cooking oil is very rare and extreme. "Bad" plastic surgery can be avoided by doing due diligence and researching your potential surgeon. It is important to verify that any surgeon you see is Board Certified; meaning they have the highest standard of certification and experience.

I also recommend that you look at before and after pictures of previous patients to see if the surgeon's aesthetic matches yours. Make sure you and your surgeon are on the same page when it comes to your treatment plan and goals.

It’s also important to note that complications can happen no matter how good the doctor is or how minor the procedure. Any surgical procedure should be undertaken with caution and a clear knowledge of the facts, potential risks, and rewards.

You want to find a surgeon who listens to your goals, addresses your questions, is someone you feel comfortable with, has high safety standards, and has a great deal of experience. You should feel comfortable with your surgeon every step of the way, and if you do not, find another.

Scott W. Mosser, MD
San Francisco Plastic Surgeon
4.5 out of 5 stars 9 reviews

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.