Why is Cosmetic Surgery Called “Plastic” Surgery?

The first recorded plastic surgery dates back to the Old Kingdom from 3000 to 2500 BC. Reconstructive surgery techniques were being carried out in India by 800 BC. Years and years later, the first American plastic surgeon, John Peter Mettauer, performed the first cleft palate operation with instruments that he designed himself in 1827. Plastic surgery has advanced in technological developments and safety measures tenfold since it was first introduced. And throughout its technological advancements and innovations, the term “plastic surgery” has stuck around.

Many patients undergoing cosmetic procedures ask their surgeons and doctors the question: Why is cosmetic surgery called “plastic” surgery anyway? Considering plastic surgery usually involves the person’s own skin, fat and bones for reconstruction, the question is a valid one! Even modern silicone implants don’t use any plastic whatsoever. Plastic is actually not a hypoallergenic material and therefore cannot be used in procedures.

Below we discuss the reasons behind why cosmetic surgery is called “plastic” surgery:

Root Word of Plastic Surgery
The answer to this question lies mostly in the root origin of the word “plastic.” The word “plastic” is derived from the Greek word “plastikos,” which means to mold, or to have the ability to mold. While cosmetic surgery does not usually involve the implementation of synthetic materials into the patient’s body, the goal of plastic surgery is in fact to mold and contour a person’s shape.

Plastic surgery gets its name because it is a surgical specialty involving the restoration, reconstruction, or alteration of the body. Plastic surgery can be divided into two categories. The first is reconstructive surgery, which includes craniofacial surgery, hand surgery, microsurgery and the treatment of burns. The other category is cosmetic or aesthetic surgery. While reconstructive surgery aims to reconstruct a part of the body or improve its functioning, cosmetic surgery aims at improving the appearance of it. Both of these techniques are used throughout the world in modern surgical procedures.

Difference Between Plastic Surgeons and Cosmetic Surgeons
There is a difference between plastic surgeons and cosmetic surgeons, though the terms can be confusing. While both cosmetic surgery and plastic surgery deal with improving a patient’s body, the overarching philosophies guiding the training, research, and goals for patient outcomes are different. The procedures, techniques, and principles of cosmetic surgery are entirely focused on enhancing a patient’s appearance. Improving aesthetic appeal, symmetry and proportion are the main goals. An aesthetic surgery can be performed on all areas of the head, neck and body. Since cosmetic procedures treat areas that function properly, cosmetic surgery is designated as elective, not mandatory. Cosmetic elective procedures are performed by doctors from a variety of medical fields, including plastic surgeons.

Plastic surgeons undergo rigorous training in surgery followed by specific training in plastic surgery. This takes up to eight years of total hands-on training before one can be board-certified in plastic surgery. So although the title of plastic surgeon doesn’t correlate to the use of actual plastic, it is used because it is a prestigious, hard-earned title.

Examples of Plastic Surgery Contouring Procedures
Two procedures that are an excellent example of plastic surgery’s ability to mold and contour the body are liposuction and the Brazilian butt lift. Liposuction is a well-known and popular procedure that sculpts areas of the body with excess fat, streamlining, slimming and contouring the body. It is not a tool for weight loss, as the amount of fat removed during the surgery is relatively small. But the difference in the body’s aesthetics after the procedure can be significant. The Brazilian butt lift sculpts the buttocks and adds volume using the patient’s own fat from other areas of the body. No matter the patient’s age, genetics, or other factors, butt enhancement can lift, tighten, and improve the overall appearance of the buttocks. The procedure has recently become the fastest-growing cosmetic surgery in the nation, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

Benefits of Plastic Surgery
The most obvious and well-known benefit of plastic surgery is that your appearance will improve. But there are many other potential benefits of plastic surgery, depending on the type of surgery you are getting and the reason behind it. Even if you are only focusing on improving your appearance, you may realize that there are many benefits beyond this.

For example, rhinoplasty, also known as a nose job, may be done to improve appearance, but can also be done to correct breathing problems. Many people who undergo rhinoplasty find that they get the added benefit of not snoring as much or at all, as well as breathing easier after recovery is complete. With a breast reduction, you may be aiming to improve your appearance, but you will also benefit from having less weight on your shoulders and back, easing back pain and correcting back issues. With a breast augmentation, you get the added benefit of correcting posture as you attempt to stand up straighter to support the weight of your new breasts. Improving your appearance will likely also come with a boost in your happiness and your outlook on life.

In Conclusion
So case and point: plastic surgery actually isn’t plastic at all. The term comes from the Latin root word, “plastikos,” which means to mold. Plastic surgery is really just the art of surgically molding the body into a desired aesthetic. Plastic surgeons, on the other hand, are the real deal. While they still don’t use plastic in their practices, they are highly trained to earn the coveted title of plastic surgeon. Because of tradition and history, the term plastic surgery has stuck around and will likely continue to stick around over time.