Why it could be risky to find a plastic surgeon on Instagram

Story highlights

Study: Only 17.8% of plastic surgeons on Instagram in the US and Canada are board-certified

Experts offer tips on how to safely shop for a plastic surgeon

CNN  — 

Instagram isn’t just for selfies: Many plastic surgeons promote their work on the social media app, and some users search the app to find surgeons.

Yet picking your next plastic surgeon on Instagram can bring some serious health risks if that surgeon is not board-certified, according to a pilot study published Wednesday in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal.

Only 17.8% of plastic surgery-related Instagram posts in the United States and Canada might come from board-certified plastic surgeons, according to the study, which analyzed posts uploaded on a single day in January.

The majority of the posts were from physicians not trained in plastic surgery or professionals who were not even licensed physicians, such as dentists or spa aestheticians, said senior study author Dr. Clark Schierle, a board-certified Northwestern Medicine plastic surgeon and faculty member at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“Finding your surgeon on Instagram isn’t necessarily a problem,” Schierle said, adding that his own practice has accounts on Instagram and other social media sites.

Rather, a public health problem can arise when non-certified professionals market invasive procedures on the social media app and prospective patients may not ensure that the person behind the marketing is board-certified for that surgery, he said.

To be certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, a physician must have at least five years of approved surgical training, including a residency in plastic surgery, and must pass comprehensive written and oral exams in plastic surgery, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.

Certification is a voluntary credential, but by choosing a board-certified plastic surgeon, patients can be assured that the surgeon completed at least five years of additional training as a resident surgeon and graduated from an accredited medical school, according to the board.

The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada also follows a similar process for certification.

“We’ve all heard these headlines in recent years of some terrible things that have happened in association with surgery that was not being done in the safest possible manner,” Schierle said.

As for those on Instagram, “some of these are doctors practicing outside of their scope of practice. Some of these are non-physicians just doing crazy stuff, like injecting silicone building material from Home Depot into people’s bodies without a medical license,” Schierle said. “These days, with the Internet and social media, these people have more of a voice and more opportunity for horizontal information transmission than ever before.”

‘Social media takes it to yet another level’

The new study involved more than 1 million Instagram posts that were uploaded January 9. Each included at least one of 21 plastic surgery-related hashtags such as #plasticsurgery, #plasticsurgeon, #breastlift or #nosejob.

On Instagram, hashtags help aggregate and categorize uploaded photos or videos that fall within similar categories of content. Additionally, a consumer might search for a hashtag – such as #facelift – to find a surgeon.