What you need to know about “medical tourism” and why more people are doing it.

Smoking, sun, frowning, smiling, genetics, free radicals — in short, life — all eventually show up on your face no matter how much sunscreen and lotion you’ve used.

With the revolutionary plastic surgery options available today, you can nip, tuck, and inject to a slimmer, more youthful you. Erase those smile lines, jowls, and wrinkles with a facelift or tighten that stomach with a tummy tuck.

Although many of us would like to alter our physical reality, not everyone can afford expensive plastic surgery. The alternative? Medical tourism, or traveling abroad for procedures. Why get a tummy tuck in Boston when you can get it done at a bargain price in Buenos Aires — airfare included?

But as with any surgery, complications both physically and even financially can happen postoperation.

Cosmetic surgery is a $16 billion-dollar industry in the United States with 17.5 million cosmetic and minimally-invasive procedures performed in 2017, according to statistics from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

More cosmetic surgery procedures are done in the United States than in any other country, but our plastic surgeons and hospitals are the most expensive.

By traveling abroad, people can save 40 to 80 percent for plastic surgery, depending on the procedure and the country. Brazil, Japan, Italy, and Mexico are among the top international destinations of choice for cosmetic surgery, with Russia, India, Turkey, Germany, and France rounding out the top ten, according to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS).

Medical tourism, which covers all types of procedures including elective plastic surgery, is growing worldwide at an estimated rate of 15 to 25 percent, according to Patients Beyond Borders, a respected research firm and clearinghouse for data and information on the health travel industry.

The organization estimates that approximately 1.4 million Americans travel to another country annually for everything from knee surgery to dental crowns.

Many Americans who would never consider going overseas for a new knee don’t hesitate to travel for cosmetic surgery. The ISAPS reported that over 20 million cosmetic surgical and nonsurgical procedures were performed worldwide in 2014.

There are also potential drawbacks to going abroad for plastic surgery.

A study in the April issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery reported that complications like infections, wound healing problems, pain, and hospitalization have occurred after some patients return home.

Costly postoperative care isn’t always covered by the patient’s insurance, which can quickly turn the overseas bargain into a financial nightmare.

“There are plenty of bad actors out there, particularly in the border towns of Mexico,” Patients Beyond Borders CEO, Josef Woodman told Healthline, “but also in high-traffic leisure travel destinations known for cosmetic surgery, such as Dubai, Bangkok, and Istanbul. It’s critical for traveling patients to carefully vet and select reputable providers with track records of successful outcomes.”

Women often travel abroad for breast augmentation, which continues to be the world’s most popular cosmetic procedure, followed by liposuction, eyelid surgery, rhinoplasty (nose jobs), abdominoplasty (tummy tucks), and breast lifts, according to ISAPS. In 2016, labiaplasty (reducing the length of the labia minora) rose 45 percent and lower body lifts increased 29 percent.

But it’s not just women traveling abroad to get cosmetic enhancements. Men accounted for 13.8 percent of cosmetic patients and their favorite procedure was eyelid surgery followed by gynecomastia (male breast reduction), rhinoplasty, liposuction, and hair transplant.

“These results confirm something that most board-certified plastic surgeons already knew — that the demand for cosmetic procedures is stronger than ever,” said ISAPS president Dr. Renato Saltz. “Around the world, we are seeing record numbers of patients looking to take advantage of the latest innovations in cosmetic surgery to look and feel better about themselves.”

Foreign travel is intimidating to many people and most of us don’t relish the thought of any kind of surgery, so it’s easy to imagine the stress involved with going abroad for body-altering surgery.

International plastic surgeons know this and many take pains to make everything involved with traveling to their facility as streamlined and comforting as possible.

In fact, many medical tourists are delighted to learn that cosmetic surgery in a foreign country can resemble a mini-spa vacation with inclusive packages that include all surgical care, plus airport pickup, pre- and postsurgery accommodations in four-star hotels, exotic meal plans, and — once you’re up to it — sightseeing.

Looking at the ISAPS website is a good place to start. The global organization of over 3,200 board-certified plastic surgeons in 103 countries screens their members to ensure that:

  • they have extensive training in the complete spectrum of surgical and nonsurgical aesthetic procedures
  • they’re members of a recognized national and international plastic surgery society
  • they and their staff speak English fluently
  • the surgical setting is accredited or certified

Patients Beyond Borders has also compiled a 200-plus page booklet that covers most questions patients might have about having any sort of surgery overseas.

As with any medical procedure, it’s imperative that you ask a lot of questions and be as well-informed as possible. Talk to your prospective surgeon, either through email or Skype calls, and make sure you completely understand the procedure, the possible side effects, expected results, the clinic or hospital setting, postsurgery recovery facilities, and available assistance.

Remember, you may be in a vacation destination, but you’re not really vacationing — so ask about swimming, sunbathing, and alcohol use postsurgery.

Airline flights or long car rides can also increase the risk for deep vein thrombosis (blood clots in the legs) and pulmonary embolism (blood clots in the lungs), so be sure you’re clear on how long you need to wait before traveling home.

Find out if the clinic or hospital you’re considering is affiliated with medical facilities in your home area, which can help if you need unexpected follow-up treatment postoperatively.

Your health insurance will probably not reimburse you for elective cosmetic surgery and it might not cover any complications that may arise once you’re home. Find out before you go.

Above all, do the research before you make a decision.