Do you ever feel like you don’t measure up to the flawless beauty you see on TV and social media? Do you only seem to see imperfections when you look in the mirror?

In a Cosmetic Laser Dermatology webinar, Sabrina Fabi, MD, discusses perception drift and how this real problem impacts individuals and the treatments and procedures patients want to receive. Dr. Fabi is a board-certified dermatologist at Cosmetic Laser Dermatology, an international dermatological leader, and an assistant clinical professor at the University of California. She is part of Cosmetic Laser Dermatology’s expert team of world-renowned dermatologists that offers customized care emphasizing natural-looking results at their medical spa in San Diego.

What is Perception Drift?

Perception drift is a phenomenon that occurs when individuals cannot accurately assess changes in their appearance from cosmetic procedures and continue treatments to the point where they look overdone or unnatural.

Visit pubmed.gov to read more about perception drift.

Why Does Perception Drift Occur?

Perception drift occurs when individuals constantly undergo procedures and no longer remember what they initially looked like before cosmetic changes.

When a patient’s perception of change after a procedure is inaccurate or skewed, it is known as perception drift.

It only takes one millimeter of change to be noticeable, and often, others notice the changes, but not the individual who underwent the procedure.

Before and after photos for each cosmetic procedure can help track changes and reduce perception drift.

image of a cosmetic treatment patient from Dr. Fabi's webinar in San Diego, CA

How We See Things

In a 2017 study, researchers found that humans have inconsistent aesthetic preferences over two weeks. The study asked individuals to rank a set of images by aesthetic preference, and then two weeks later gave the same images to the same individuals to rank. The study found that individuals were inconsistent with preferences, changing their rankings from their original image viewing.

Two weeks is about how long it takes for many treatments such as dermal fillers and lasers to take full effect, which means that by the time one treatment is completed, a patient wants another procedure to address a new aesthetic perception. Interestingly enough, individuals in the study aged 40 and older were the most inconsistent with aesthetic preferences, while individuals aged 20-22 years old were more stable in their preferences.

Another study by Dr. Kate Goldie and Dr. Fabi showed the perception of the attractiveness of different lip sizes could be shifted by an average of 20% by showing a lip size to a participating individual for 30 seconds. These studies show that people can be fickle when it comes to aesthetic preferences.

The Problem with Social Media: Snapchat Dysmorphia

Snapchat Dysmorphia is a term used to describe individuals electing cosmetic procedures that result in a look similar to heavily edited and filtered images of themselves. Apps like Snapchat have filters that allow you to even skin tone, smooth wrinkles, and even change the shape of your facial structure. Individuals need to be mindful of their visual appetite and how they are altering images because they both impact aesthetic preferences.

How Do We Evaluate Our Own Faces?

Individuals are influenced by visual diets. The content we absorb and the people we follow on social media shape our decisions on cosmetic beauty and procedural choices. When you modify facial features in apps, it influences which procedures you request. For example, if you make your lips fuller, you are more likely to request lip injections.

Perception Drift and Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is a psychological condition where patients are obsessed with perceived or imaginary flaws in their appearance. Patients with BDD have increased local processing, which is recognizing individual features, whereas global processing recognizes a feature by its overall form and relationship to other features.

Some patients have an imbalance in global and local processing after aesthetic procedures. Once a feature is changed for patients focusing on local processing, it enhances local processing, and individuals continue to fixate on other perceived flaws. This new baseline after each procedure can quickly lead to overdone and unnatural-looking features.

How to Prevent Perception Drift During and After Your Cosmetic Treatment

You can prevent perception drift during and after cosmetic treatments with visual retraining.

View your entire face and body in a full-length mirror and describe each body part objectively, without judgemental thoughts or comments. This helps reduce fixation and perception alteration. You should also:

  • Trust your provider and stick with them
  • Avoid hopping around from provider to provider
  • Choose a physician that will say no—and listen to your physician
  • Focus on what you looked like when you started
patient receiving a cosmetic treatment from Dr. Fabi in San Diego, CA

How to Prevent Perception Drift Overall

We are our own worst critics, so stop picking on yourself; put down the phone, put the mirror away, and redirect your thoughts to what you do like about yourself. Ways you can prevent perception drift include:

  • Controlling your visual diet
  • Minimizing the use of filters or feature distorting apps
  • Don’t make aesthetic decisions after spending time on social media

When dealing with or avoiding perception drift, looking at what your provider finds attractive and aesthetically pleasing can be essential. Frequently if your provider looks natural, they can help you achieve a natural look.

Schedule a Consultation at Our San Diego Medical Spa Today

Cosmetic Laser Dermatology is a top cosmetic dermatologist and medical spa in San Diego, California. With more than 50 lasers and decades of experience, Cosmetic Laser Dermatology provides customized care focusing on natural results. Contact us today to schedule a consultation for more information about perception drift and choosing appropriate cosmetic procedures to meet your specific aesthetic needs and goals.

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The information available on this website is provided for informational purposes only. This information is not intended to replace a medical consultation where a physician’s judgment may advise you about specific disorders, conditions and/or treatment options. We hope the information will be useful for you to become more educated about your health care decisions.

*Please note: Free in-person consultations are available with Dr. Loyal, Leysin Fletcher, PA-C, and medical aesthetician Farzaneh Momeni-Salami, while all consultations with Drs. Goldman, Butterwick, Groff, Fabi, Wu, and Boen are subject to a $250 fee that will be applied towards your treatment. All virtual consultations are also subject to a fee that will be applied towards treatment. Promotions are not available with Dr. Goldman. We do not accept insurance for any of our procedures. Any questions – feel free to call us at 858.943.2113.

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