Plastic surgery the facts

If you opt for plastic surgery, it is vital to do your homework beforehand. Find a qualified consultant who will truthfully explain the pros and cons (see below).

l Face: a basic "mini-lift" involves cutting and stretching the skin from the temples to the front of the ears. At the other end of the scale, a full-blown extended SMAS face-lift (this refers to a layer of skin known as the superficial musculo-aponeurotic system) may be carried out on older women. Here, the cuts are deeper, fatty tissue can be removed and surgeons can improve a "turkey gobble" neck. For younger women, keyhole surgery is also an option.

The surgery involves a general anaesthetic and will cause bruising, swelling, numbness and stiffness for at least l4 days. Rarely, a patient will suffer permanent numbness or a lopsided smile. The operation costs between pounds 3,000 and pounds 10,000.

Other surgery on the face may include liposuction to tackle a double chin, drooping eyelids or sagging eyebrows; laser or chemical treatment to iron out facial creases, and redraping the skin under the eye to avoid "bags". A brow lift costs pounds 2,000-pounds 3,000; tightening the upper or lower eyelids is likely to set you back at least pounds 1,000.

Non-surgical treatments are also available: botulinum toxin can be injected every three months to eliminate frown lines (pounds 150 a time) but may temporarily cause drooping eyebrow. Dermabrasion - sanding away the top level of skin - or a chemical peel will remove scars and skin creases (pounds 200-pounds 400), but the skin may scar and be left sensitive to sun. Laser treatment, increasingly used as an alternative to these, costs at least pounds 500.

Collagen, a protein, can be injected to fill deep nose-to-mouth grooves or "plump up" the lips. Two or three treatments may be needed and they last only three to six months; there is also a risk of allergic reaction. It costs pounds 110 for an initial consultation, plus pounds 250 per injection.

l Breasts: an uplift operation, or mastopexy, will reposition the nipple and reduce the amount of skin without increasing size. It can lead to reduced nipple sensation. The cost is around pounds 3,500. To increase size, an implant is needed; breast reduction involves moving the nipple up and removing the lower part of the breast.

l Stomach: a "tummy tuck", or abdominoplasty, involves cutting above the pubic area. Fat is removed by liposuction, the muscles of the abdomen are stitched tightly, then the skin is pulled down and the excess removed. It costs pounds 2,500-pounds 3,000, and can lead to permanent numbness.

l Hips: liposuction is used to remove "love handles" - fatty bits on the sides of the hips - though the procedure is still regarded as dubious; some deaths have been reported from severe blood loss. A tiny tube is inserted and the fat is sucked out. The cost of the operation is between pounds 1,000 and pounds 4,500. There is a risk of uneven fat removal, and the skin failing to contract.

l To find a good cosmetic surgeon, contact The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons at 35 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London, WC2A 3PN (0171-405 2234); send a large sae and they will provide a list of members. To find out whether a surgeon is qualified in plastic surgery, call the General Medical Council (0171-580 7642). The British Association of Cosmetic Surgeons (0171-323 5728) represents mainly surgeons in private clinics; they may not be qualified plastic surgeons, but are possibly more practised in certain techniques