The Brazilian facelift has become one of the deadliest cosmetic surgeries

A few days after undergoing cosmetic surgery on her buttocks, Chelsea found herself in the Philadelphia emergency room. The skin around her thighs turned black, hardened, and blistered. The burning sensation was so intense that the American had trouble breathing. “I was hoping to witness a transformation in my body as a new mom and it turned into a real nightmare,” says the young woman in a Bloomberg article.

At 29, Chelsea had opted for a popular operation called the “Brazilian facelift.” The latter consists of sucking fat from a body part (usually the abdomen or thighs) and then injecting it into the buttocks to give it a plumper shape.

This aesthetic intervention is anything but trivial, it is even dangerous. In 2017, it was the plastic surgery with the highest mortality rate in the United States. As a result of these operations, it often happens that the patients (because it is mostly women who have this operation performed) suffer from paralysis or severe pain due to nerve damage. About 3% of surgeons in the country also report that one of their patients has died after a Brazilian facelift.

And yet, despite its dangerousness, this operation is gaining more and more popularity. “In recent years, the number of surgeries has increased dramatically”says Lina Triana, President-elect of the International Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (Isaps). More than 40,000 buttock lift surgeries were performed by board-certified plastic surgeons in the United States in 2020, double the number five years earlier, the latest ISAPS statistics show.

According to analysts at Grand View Research, buttock augmentation (including silicone implants) represented a $1.5 billion global market in 2020. A market that’s still growing at 22% per year and is projected to reach $6.6 billion in 2028. However, medical complications associated with these procedures remain common.

Inadequate regulations

In the United States, after several months of training, doctors can receive a certificate that entitles them to perform cosmetic surgery. These diplomas are issued by independent bodies named “special advice”. However, not all advice is the same. The American Board of Medical Specialties, widely recognized as the benchmark for certifying physicians, recognizes only twenty-four of them as meeting the specialty medicine criteria.

However, if an unqualified doctor uses inappropriate techniques, it can lead to serious health problems and sometimes even the death of the patient. In Chelsea’s case, a medical error was responsible for the fat necrosis that developed after her surgery.

In addition, in some US states, physicians are free to perform surgery in any office, whether or not it is equipped to deal with potential complications. In the state of Georgia, attorney Susan Witt fought to change that by campaigning for the creation of a regulator to inspect businesses and investigate complaints. In 2021, the council was given the power to make further recommendations for operations in the field. New regulatory proposals are also pending approval.

Useful recommendations as Brazilian facelifts have become a little less deadly. A recent survey of board-certified surgeons shows that the mortality rate for buttock lifts in the US has dropped from 1 in 3,000 procedures in 2017 to 1 in 15,000 procedures in 2019, a risk similar to that of a tummy tuck. However, the number of deaths could be much higher than announced. In fact, physicians are not required to report cosmetic procedures that have resulted in hospital transfers or deaths.


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