The cost of facelifts and breast enlargements is set to rise by 20% after new guidelines over VAT on plastic surgery.
Doctors performing purely cosmetic operations must register for VAT and pass the charge on to patients in a move which will boost public finances.
But HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) said it was only clarifying existing laws in guidance sent to trade professionals.
British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons president Fazel Fatah said today: "The subjective proposals being put forward by HMRC will potentially harm large numbers of patients.
"They imply that, by definition, any procedure that corrects appearance rather than function is not a medical need. There has been no meaningful discussion with the professional bodies involved.
"We can only hope that common ground can be found that protects the wellbeing of patients while balancing the obvious need to increase tax revenues. With surgery we are quite literally dealing with human lives."
The updated guidance, seen by the Mail on Sunday, says: "Cosmetic services are usually performed so that the individual concerned may feel better about their appearance.
"The mere fact that a cosmetic treatment may make a person feel more confident about their appearance is not in itself sufficient."
Consultant plastic surgeon Douglas McGeorge criticised the new guidance, saying: "Should prominent ear correction be taxed; an operation performed on young children to prevent them being bullied and developing psychological problems?
"What level of asymmetry or abnormality is required to justify breast surgery?
"When do large breasts create enough of a physical problem to allow treatment?
"Large noses will kill no one on their own but can create major problems in life that prevent individuals contributing to society and, indeed, have been known to result in self harming."
An HMRC spokesman said there was "no change in Government policy on VAT for cosmetic surgery".
He added: "It is not charged on surgery for medical reasons, and is charged for surgery for aesthetic reasons."