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Home Cosmetic Surgery (Yes, It Exists!)

Scary as it sounds, home surgey options are available. Here's why you should say far, far away.

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If you search the Internet, you can find just about anything, and that includes kits and instructions on how to perform surgery on yourself.

I’m not kidding, and if you already knew this, then you really need to read this column.

Home Mole Removal

There are companies that sell highly concentrated bloodroot cream and include instructions how to remove moles, skin tags and warts with it. Docs call those things “lesions.” In its most potent form ($120 for enough cream to kill 30 moles), this stuff works overnight. In very small print, way down on another page of their website, they do warn you to have the lesion looked at by a dermatologist before removal. I suspect they say this with a wink to their attorneys, to lessen the chance of a disastrous lawsuit.

Anyone silly enough to buy this stuff is unlikely to see a dermatologist before creaming it on. The problem with this cream is that it makes YOU the dermatologist. (Check for a diploma on the wall before applying?). And even if you were the dermatologist, it’s often difficult to tell what is a cancer and what is benign. About a decade ago, some pathologists at Harvard looked under the microscope at presumably benign things taken off about 9000 people. They found 61 melanomas and a zoo of other not so nice things.

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And remember—the doctors who removed them thought those things were benign. How did you do in pathology class? Not so well, I'll bet. There are all sorts of reports coming in from people who used bloodroot on cancers, with deadly results. And there’s even one report of a guy who put it on his belly and burned clear through into his intestine.

I wonder how the makers of this cream sleep at night.

Home Chemical Peel

This story starts so nicely. Glycolic acid is one of those fruit acids that exfoliates your skin. Concentrations up to about 15 percent are common in cosmetics and for the most part, unless you get this stuff in your eyes, it’s fairly harmless.

BUT, on the Internet, you can purchase 70 percent glycolic acid. That’s potent enough to cause you to lose your skin, particularly if you use a buff pad or have microdermabrasion before the peel. It can cause uneven pigmentation and scarring and all sorts of infections can result.

Even worse, you can purchase trichloroacetic acid (TCA) peels at a 50 percent concentration right there on amazon.com. That’s strong enough to cause permanent scarring in many people. TCA peels are considered to be difficult peels even for skilled doctors to get good results—pigment problems are common afterwards. I shudder to think how you fare in front of a mirror with that stuff.

Home Botox and Wrinkle Fillers

This one goes from scary to plain illegal. These substances are controlled by the F.D.A. so the only way anyone can sell them on the Internet is by either bringing them in from outside the country or by selling bogus products. Either way, you can buy kits, complete with syringes to inject yourself. Good luck making yourself look good and I hope that you avoid those important nerves and arteries when you are injecting filler smack into your forehead….are you sure it’s real and sterile? The F.D.A. isn’t. And be sure to bone up on your anatomy…the angular artery gets nasty when it is injected…

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There’s more “do-it-yourself” surgery out there…and hasn’t the Internet made buying just about everything so easy? There are people who inject Home Depot grade silicone into their own buttocks and breasts (breasts ready in 30 minutes or your money back?) and even nutcases who try to fix their own hernias.

And despite the fact that sutures are F.D.A. controlled devices requiring a medical degree to purchase, you can find a kit for people to sew themselves up after injuries. I haven’t even “pierced” the huge subject of piercing, which really is a type of surgery with risks of infection and injury. Don't get me wrong—I’m a believer in “doing it yourself”—I’ve painted my own basement. I cut my own lawn. But even as a doctor, I don’t act as my own doctor. And neither should you.

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