Breast implants: how young is too young for breast augmentation surgery?

Despite the fact that most breast augmentation patients are aged 30-plus, we still receive a lot of interest in this procedure from young women and sometimes teens. During 2015 in the United States, 279,143 women had a breast augmentation procedure – of these,
7,840 were girls and young women aged 13 to 19 years old, with an additional 1,797 teens receiving breast lifts.

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Although Australian data isn’t available, interest in breast augmentation surgery amongst adolescent females is thought to be associated with increased social media pressure and easier access to cut-price surgery, which places procedures that were once cost-prohibitive, within closer reach of younger people.

When considering breast augmentation, Dr Sharp asks young women to think about the following questions:

  1. Have your breasts stopped developing? Your breast size should have remained unchanged for 12 months prior to surgery – this can happen anytime up until your early 20’s.
  2. Do you have a lack of breast development – or are they a proportionate size for your body, but you’d like them to be bigger?
  3. What factors are driving you to have the procedure; is it your own perception of your breasts – or your boyfriend seems to prefer large-breasted women, or your friends have commented about your breast size?
  4. How long ago did you start considering plastic surgery?
  5. What’s your ideal shape and breast size; what do you hope your body shape looks like in 5, 10 or 20 years?
  6. What will happen if you need revisional surgery in the near future? Who will fund this, and will you have private health insurance to cover some of your costs?
  7. What are the risks involved in this surgery? How do those risks make you feel?

It’s normal for a teenager to want larger breasts, or to wish they felt more womanly and developed. In some cases this is well-founded, as normal breast development does not occur, or only partially occurs, for some females.

But conversely, it’s important not undertake cosmetic surgery while the body is still developing – and equally as important – still emotionally maturing. In addition to development that may occur in the late teens, growth charts indicate that the average young woman gains weight between the ages of 18 and 21, and that is likely to change her desire or need for breast augmentation.

A longitudinal study that followed Norwegian male and female individuals between 13 and 30 years of age found a significant growth in self satisfaction and positive body image as the participants progressed through the teenage years, followed by a general stabilisation of body image satisfaction in adulthood. This indicates that many adolescents who are dissatisfied with their appearance will feel more satisfied a few years later, whether or not they undergo surgery.

It is also important to consider complications. Many women who have breast implants experience including infection, hematomas and seromas, capsular contracture, loss of nipple sensation and hypertrophic or keloid scarring. A teenager may require repeated surgeries throughout her lifetime to replace implants or revise her breasts.

Dr Sharp does operate on teenagers who have breast issues, but he does not offer cosmetic breast enhancement for young women under the age of 18. The exception to this is rare cases whereby breast surgery it is part of a reconstructive procedure – and even then, most will be delayed until breast growth has well and truly finished.

For these reasons, sometimes Dr Sharp will also recommend that the patient consults a psychologist prior to having surgery to assess the patient’s self perception and appropriateness for body-changing procedure.

The excitement and perceived glamour of cosmetic surgery can sometimes overwhelm good judgement – at any age. But the risks of performing cosmetic surgery on bodies that have not reached maturation make the stakes even higher for teens. The operative complications and long term physical changes created by these procedures – and the psychological implications of surgery on a developing body image – must be considered first by teenagers and their families before taking the first steps towards cosmetic surgery upon completion of their breast development.