There’s a new viral trend on TikTok, and it’s motivating a lot of people to consider plastic surgery. It’s the platform’s latest facial filter, meant to show one’s older self, and many people are taking it as accurate and predictive. However, while it can be accurate in several ways, it does have its faults. TikTok has many of these filters that use programming and AI to change how a person looks on screen. Over the years, these have grown more and more sophisticated. Initially, they would do simple things like apply cartoon-looking makeup or make stars fly behind the user’s head. The latest filters, however, are far more advanced and compelling; unfortunately, they can be misleading if users rely on them without guidance from an experienced professional.
It might help to remember the morphing technology used in music videos in the early 90s. These featured dramatic facial transformations. The transitions were smooth and realistic looking. This new TikTok filter transforms the user’s image from their present appearance into a purported “aged” version of themselves. But it also relies on AI-enhanced data about facial physiology to make the changes rather than simply “morphing” the image into another. While there is little doubt that this can be entertaining, the vital question is, can it be safely used as a rationale for choosing cosmetic surgery?
According to USA Today, the filter shows how a person’s face will age. It shows how the hair will gray, how and where wrinkles will form, how the shape of the face will change, and so on. It leverages the predictive abilities of a specially-tooled AI system which uses some impressive programming to analyze the user’s face and “predict” how these changes will manifest. For example, a person with full cheeks might be shown the development of jowls. The shape of the eyes affects how crow’s feet may form and how deeply. Laugh lines are predicted using the shape and proportions of the mouth and cheeks, and so on. Even though many dermatologists on TikTok are praising the filter, other industry professionals have reservations. They say there are certain aging factors that either cannot or are not being correctly represented by some experts in cosmetic surgery.
As an experienced, board-certified plastic surgeon, I can tell you that the filter has some significant flaws. Yes, it’s good for entertainment and has educational potential. For example, it demonstrates how fine wrinkles around the eyes and mouth may form, how thicker folds may form around areas with greater tissue volume, and how the skin’s texture may change. However, the filter does not take into account how exposure to pollutants, a lack of skincare, and smoking might accelerate aging. If the filter were applied to identical twins with different habits and risk factors, they would be shown to age in precisely the same way without considering these factors.
Although the filter could be instructive, it should only be used in conjunction with the informed advice of an expert. A qualified medical professional would not claim that it’s a perfect prediction. Any responsible expert would take the candidate’s medical history into account. He would consider risk factors like stress, sun exposure, smoking, drinking, and exposure to pollutants.
Today, plastic surgeons already use aging simulators to educate their patients. But the experts know that the simulations have never represented a guaranteed perfect representation of future aging. When patients come into my office considering plastic surgery, we may show them an animation like the ones we have used for years. However, we would never use it without properly evaluating the patient’s health, risk factors, and unique physiology.
We endeavor to provide the most accurate and reliable advice possible, which always means considering all of the relevant factors, not a simple aging filter alone.
Fadi Nukta is a cosmetic plastic surgeon.