Cosmetic Surgery vs Plastic Surgery: What Is the Difference?

The world of surgery often proves a confusing place for the non-medical professional. There are dozens of specialties and even more sub-specialties. This confusion often extends into the world of cosmetic vs plastic surgery.

Many people consider them the same thing. They use terms like plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery interchangeably.

Is it actually the case that they are the same thing? Is the difference meaningful? 

Surprisingly, there is a crucial difference between the two. Keep reading and we'll explore the cosmetic surgery vs plastic surgery divide.

Why Is It Called Plastic Surgery?

The term plastic surgery itself leaves many people baffled. After all, most of the procedures don't involve implants made of plastic. The confusion stems from the meaning of plastic in use.

The Greek term "plastikos" is the root word for the English term plastic. Broadly speaking, the translation is something along the lines of "form" in the sense that you can mold something. Plastic surgery molds the human body in some way. 

What is Plastic Surgery?

Plastic surgery is a specialty that focuses on reconstructive and corrective procedures. A few of the more common types of procedures include:

  • Burn repair surgeries
  • Cleft palate surgeries
  • Hand surgeries

Plastic surgeries typically involve some level of medical necessity. For example, a plastic hand surgery might look to repair carpal tunnel syndrome or reattach a severed finger. Burn surgery might aim at helping restore someone's appearance.

Some plastic surgery procedures can even treat cancers, infections, or remove tumors.

What is Cosmetic Surgery?

Cosmetic surgery focuses entirely on improving the appearance separate from any medical need. The entire goal is for the surgery to enhance the patient's self-worth and well-being. The idea is that the surgery will bring the patient closer to his or her ideal image.

This is why cosmetic surgeries fall under the heading of elective procedures. You want one for personal reasons, rather than medical reasons.

Cosmetic surgery is its own surgical specialty with an independent board certification process.

Cosmetic Vs Plastic Surgery

Plastic surgeons get cosmetic surgery training, which makes the line blurry. It means some plastic surgeons offer cosmetic surgery procedures. For example, you might consult the facelift surgeons at Associates in Plastic Surgery.

In general, however, plastic surgery focuses more on procedures driven by medical needs than ones driven solely by appearance.

Parting Thoughts on Cosmetic Surgery vs Plastic Surgery

The cosmetic surgery vs plastic surgery divide is real if sometimes a little blurry. It’s made blurrier because some plastic surgeons do plastic and cosmetic surgery.  

Plastic surgery puts a priority on reconstructive procedures and physical repairs that serve medical ends. Cosmetic surgery focused on procedures that adjust how someone looks. While it often serves an important emotional end, cosmetic surgery isn’t medically necessary. 

Want to know more about cosmetic surgeries? Check out our health and beauty section.


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