Recently, when an 8-year-old Ohio girl underwent a plastic surgery procedure to reduce the size of her ears, many people rejoiced that the child, Tatum Gordon, could finally be happy with her appearance. Gordon had long been teased for the size and shape of her ears, and following the surgical procedure she could finally return to school with confidence. But the surgery raised ethical questions as well - namely, how young is too young for plastic surgery?
"I don’t really think there’s such a thing as an across-the-board age that’s appropriate for plastic surgery," says Dr. Ryan Mitchell, a plastic surgeon from Henderson, Nevada. "In the Gordon case, her ears were reshaped. It wasn’t a surgery that would have benefited her by waiting longer to do. It also was probably not a surgery that would have made sense to perform on her were she any younger."
Mitchell says that many clinics have a minimum age at which they are willing to operate on a patient. In 2007, the FDA ruled that teenagers must be at least 18 to undergo breast augmentation. According to Mitchell, this decision was made for both mental and physical reasons.
"By 18 the body should be done growing and be out of puberty. So, chances are you aren’t operating on a body that isn’t done growing yet," he says. "That, and at 18, legally you are an adult and should be able to make this type of decision for yourself."
But turning 18 doesn’t quite open the plastic surgery floodgates, either.
"The FDA doesn’t recommend women get silicone implants until they they are at least 22 years old," says Mitchell. "It is considered off-label. It can still be done, but it’s not recommended by the FDA. Whether a surgeon will use saline on someone under 22 is up to that surgeon, and is usually done on a case-by-case basis."
For example, sometimes the patient’s skin is too thin to use a saline implant, and the results would not look natural.
"In that case, the surgeon may make the executive decision to use a silicone implant on a patient under the age of 22," says Mitchell.
Mitchell is careful to note, however, that the FDA does state that if there is a "deformity" or a need for reconstruction, silicone implants are appropriate for women under the age of 22.
"Basically, we are trying to make sure that young women are choosing plastic surgery for the right reasons, and that they understand the permanence of their decisions," he says. "Those things come with maturity. But at the same time, we can do rhinoplasty surgery on younger teens, and ear pinning. It really just depends on the patient."