Maybe Don't Find Cosmetic Surgeons Through Instagram

One great thing about social media is how easy it makes finding goods and services. This works really well for nabbing that perfect geometric necklace or the skateboard illustrated by your favorite designer. When it comes to some things, however, social media may not be the best place to start. Case in point: aesthetic plastic surgery.

Northwestern University just released a study showing that most of the ads you see on Instagram hashtags like #cosmeticsurgery and #boobjob don't come from providers who are board-certified to perform that kind of medical intervention. More than half of posts on those hashtags don't come from physicians at all, but from hair salons, barbers, or spas.

Just 17.8 percent of the top posts in the eligible hashtags came from plastic surgeons eligible for membership in the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. Various other physicians who wouldn't be membership-eligible (dermatologists, general surgeons, gynecologists, etc.) posted 26.4 percent of those posts. Watch for language differences in these cases — per the Northwestern researchers, "All non-plastic surgery-trained physicians marketed themselves as cosmetic surgeons."

It's true that some cosmetic procedures like CoolSculpting, which freezes fat cells until they burst and are naturally expelled from the body, are noninvasive and can be performed in an outpatient setting. But there's a big difference between going to a licensed professional for lip plumping and getting it done on the cheap by someone without proper training. No surgery is without risk of complications, and accredited providers are much more likely to have the training to cope with surprises if something doesn't go according to plan.

So who is an accredited provider? That's worth researching before you go for a procedure too. Some people can call themselves accredited after short weekend courses, while others have gone through medical school and all the specialty training that comes after, sometimes for eight years or more. While health insurance tends not to cover elective cosmetic surgeries, it's hard to argue for body modification of any kind on deep discount.

The Northwestern researchers did find a not-insignificant number of board-certified physicians posting educational material on social media. The study encourages those surgeons to post about the risks of plastic surgery — not all that sexy, but when it comes to protecting your body and your looks, vital.