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Social media and mental health


Instagram and Snapchat may be detrimental to young people’s mental health. But can (and should) Instagram shield youth from cosmetic surgery procedure posts?

Patrick Byrne, M.D., M.B.A.

Dr. Byrne

Instagram announced in September that it and Facebook were restricting posts about cosmetic procedures and weight loss products to users under 18 years of age and will start tightening restrictions on “branded miracle claims.”

In some cases, the social media platforms will remove posts entirely and they’re making it easier for users to reports posts that might violate policy.

There hasn’t been an official announcement posted on Instagram or Facebook, but media outlets worldwide have reported widely on the new social media rule.

“It’s not in the interest of the broader community to be exposed to these kind of branded miracle claims. We’ve also gone a step further where young people are concerned and the action that we’re taking for the under 18s is that any branded promotion of weight loss products or undertaking of cosmetic procedures will be restricted so under 18s won’t see them,” Instagram’s Public Policy Manager Emma Collins told the London Evening Standard (the Standard).

Collins has said the policy is part of Instagram’s ongoing work to be a positive place for users and reduce the pressure people might feel as a result of social media, according to an article in BuzzFeed News.

There’s good reason to be concerned about social media’s impact on mental health, self-esteem and body image. Instagram and Snapchat emerged as the social media platforms that were found to be most detrimental to young people’s mental health and wellbeing, according to a report by The Royal Society for Public Health and Young Health Movement released in 2017.

The pediatrician community is sounding its alarm: “While social media platforms continue to experience surges in popularity, mounting evidence suggests significant correlations between their usage and adolescent mental health and behavioral issues. Increased social media usage has been linked to diminished self-esteem and body satisfaction, elevated risk of cyber-bullying, heightened exposure to pornographic material, and risky sexual behaviors,” according to an article published earlier this year in Current Opinion in Pediatrics.


The American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS) is among the aesthetic societies that have noted surges in cosmetic procedure demand especially among young adults, which are driven in part by social media use and selfies.

AAFPRS member and facial plastic surgeon Patrick Byrne, M.D., M.B.A., tells Dermatology Times that he thinks the move by Instagram and Facebook to restrict diet and cosmetic surgery posts to teens and younger is a positive development. But there are times when it might be a good thing to allow teens to see some social media posts on cosmetic procedures. 

“Many of us who work in this field (perhaps most) have concerns about the unhealthy influence of social media on young people's self-perception. It seems to be the case that some people are susceptible to content which leads them to feel badly about their own appearance,” says Dr. Byrne, who is professor and director of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

“When it comes to cosmetic surgery, this seems a very reasonable stance for Instagram …. There are situations, however, where it seems appropriate for young people to learn about viable options to change their appearance surgically. It is certainly a spectrum, but on the extreme end, there are definitely adolescents and teens who have facial features that lead them to be teased and bullied and suffer from poor self-esteem. When these features are severe, and also correctable, it strikes me as a very positive thing - at least in some cases - for them to know that they can pursue improvement. Rhinoplasty is an example. I have seen countless young people experience true meaningful psychological benefit from surgery to improve their nasal appearance.”

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