Cosmetic Surgery, Plastic Surgery—What’s the Difference?


Is cosmetic and plastic surgery the same? Although it isn’t the same, most people think it is. Most plastic surgeons give preference to cosmetic surgery. This confusion has led the terms taken and used interchangeably. However, this is technically wrong. Plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery are specialties closely related to each other. But they are not the same. Here’s what you need to know about the two:

The Surgical Procedures Have Different Goals

Although both surgeries involve the target of enhancing body of a patient, there is a significant difference in the philosophies controlling the training, research, and objectives for outcomes of patient.

Cosmetic Surgery Enhances Physical Appearance

When it comes to cosmetic surgery, the processes, principles, and techniques of surgery are exclusively fixated on augmenting physical appearance of a patient. The surgeon uses his skills and experience in enhancing symmetry and aesthetic appeal. He will also consider overall proportion of physical attributes while undertaking the procedure. This type of surgery may be performed on all parts of the neck, body, and head. Since the areas treated upon are functioning in a proper way, cosmetic surgery is elective. Doctors and medical professionals from a variety of medical fields including plastic surgeons can perform cosmetic surgery.

The range of cosmetic surgery processes includes:

Skin Rejuvenation – The skin is enhanced and imparted a youthful appearance using Botox®, Laser Resurfacing, and Filler Treatments.

Breast Enhancement – The cosmetic surgery revolves around Augmentation, Lift, and Reduction of breasts.

Body Contouring – The process involves enhancing appearance of body parts such as abdomen, thigh, hips, arms etc. Tummy Tuck, Liposuction, and Gynecomastia Treatment are the most common body contouring procedures.

Facial Contouring – This is a hot favorite among celebrities and general public for enhancing facial features or transforming as desired. Rhinoplasty, Lip filler, and Chin enhancement, and Cheek Enhancement are the most common procedures.

Facial Rejuvenation – This is usually done for anti-aging effects. People usually go for Neck Lift, Facelift, Eyelid Lift, and Brow Lift.

Plastic Surgery Repairs Defects for Reconstructing Normal Function & Appearance

On the other hand, plastic surgery is a surgical specialty dedicated to reconstruction of defects of face and body. This may be done for repairing all kinds of facial and body defects acquired from birth, an accident, burns, disease, etc. Plastic surgery is aimed at rectifying dysfunctional areas of the body which can be reconstructed. Although most plastic surgeons such as the board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. George M. Varkarakis of Miami choose to complete additional training and perform cosmetic surgery for various reasons, the foundation of their surgical training remains reconstructive plastic surgery.

During the year 1999, the ‘American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons’ changed their name to the ‘American Society of Plastic Surgeons’. This action was aimed at communicating the message that “reconstructive and plastic surgeons are the same.”

The most common examples of plastic surgery procedures include:

– Scar Revision Surgery

– Surgery for Repairing Burn

– Hand Surgery

– Reconstruction of Breast (after cancer or a trauma/disease)

– Congenital Defect Repair such as Extremity Defect Repair or Cleft Palate

– Lower Extremity Reconstruction

Training for Cosmetic Surgery is Obtained Separately from Plastic Surgery Training

Since both fields are distinct in practice, the training and certification process for any board certified plastic surgeon and cosmetic surgeon is different.

The training for plastic surgery training is accomplished through a post-graduate residency program. Physicians who become board certified through plastic surgery must accomplish any one of the following two paths of training:

  1. An individual requires integrated residency training including 3 years of general surgery in addition to 3 years of plastic surgery. The residency training may include cosmetic surgery as a part of the training. However, it may not include training on all aspects and procedures of cosmetic procedure.


  1. An independent residency program in general surgery (5 year) which must be followed by the 3-year plastic surgery residency program.

Cosmetic surgery training is mainly completed once the individual successfully completes residency training. All board certified cosmetic surgeons are residency trained which is followed by fellowship training in cosmetic surgery


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