How Is Plastic Surgery Different From Cosmetic Surgery?

You may have heard the terms “plastic surgery” and “cosmetic surgery” used interchangeably, but did you know that there is a distinct difference between the two? While both involve procedures that aim to enhance a person’s appearance, plastic surgery focuses on reconstructing and repairing physical defects caused by accidents, burns, birth defects, or disease, whereas cosmetic surgery solely focuses on improving aesthetic appearance. So, if you’ve ever wondered about the nuances of these two fields, this article will give you a clear understanding of how plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery differ.

Definition of Plastic Surgery

Plastic surgery is a medical specialty that involves the restoration, reconstruction, or alteration of the human body. It is aimed at improving both form and function, whether it is to correct a congenital defect, treat an injury, or enhance the overall appearance. Plastic surgery can be performed on any part of the body and is often used to treat conditions such as burns, birth defects, and cancer reconstructions.

Definition of Cosmetic Surgery

Cosmetic surgery, on the other hand, is a subset of plastic surgery that focuses solely on enhancing the aesthetic appearance of an individual. It is a voluntary procedure that aims to improve physical features or bring them closer to an idealized standard of beauty. Cosmetic surgery is commonly associated with procedures like breast augmentation, facelifts, rhinoplasty, liposuction, and tummy tucks.


The purpose of plastic surgery is to improve the function, reconstruct a body part, or enhance an individual’s appearance. It is often sought after to boost self-esteem, correct physical abnormalities, or restore function lost due to injury, disease, or congenital conditions. Plastic surgery can have a profound impact on an individual’s emotional and psychological well-being, leading to improved quality of life and increased self-confidence.

On the other hand, cosmetic surgery primarily focuses on improving the appearance of an individual according to their personal desires. It aims to enhance specific features that an individual may feel insecure about or wish to modify to achieve a desired look. While not medically necessary, cosmetic surgery can greatly contribute to enhancing one’s self-image and overall happiness.


Plastic surgery encompasses a wide range of procedures and techniques, including reconstructive surgery, hand surgery, craniofacial surgery, microsurgery, and more. Its focus lies in restoring the form and function of the body, be it repairing a cleft lip, reconstructing a breast after mastectomy, or restoring hand function after an injury. Plastic surgeons are highly skilled in addressing complex medical conditions and performing intricate surgeries with the utmost precision.

Cosmetic surgery, as a subset of plastic surgery, concentrates specifically on improving the aesthetic appearance. The focus is on enhancing features such as the size, shape, or symmetry of certain body parts, smoothing out wrinkles, or removing excess fat deposits. While cosmetic surgery can have significant psychological and emotional benefits, it is not typically considered medically necessary.

Training and Certification

To become a plastic surgeon, a rigorous educational path and specialized training are required. After completing medical school, aspiring plastic surgeons must undergo comprehensive residency training focused on plastic and reconstructive surgery. This training usually takes several years and includes both theoretical knowledge and hands-on surgical experience. Following residency, plastic surgeons may choose to pursue additional fellowship training to specialize in a specific area, such as hand surgery, craniofacial surgery, or microsurgery.

Certification by the relevant medical board is essential to ensure the competence and expertise of plastic surgeons. In the United States, for example, the American Board of Plastic Surgery grants board certification to qualified candidates who have completed the necessary education, training, and passed rigorous examinations. This certification is an indication of a surgeon’s commitment to upholding the highest standards of patient care and safety.

Types of Procedures

Plastic surgery encompasses a broad spectrum of procedures that can be classified into two main categories: reconstructive surgery and cosmetic surgery.

Reconstructive surgery focuses on repairing or rebuilding body parts that have been damaged, lost, or malformed due to injury, disease, or congenital defects. This includes procedures such as breast reconstruction for cancer patients, hand surgery to restore function, skin grafting for burns, and facial reconstruction for individuals with facial deformities.

Cosmetic surgery, as mentioned earlier, is centered around improving an individual’s appearance for aesthetic purposes. It includes popular procedures like breast augmentation, facelifts, liposuction, tummy tucks, nose reshaping, and eyelid surgery. These procedures are elective and performed to enhance features that an individual is dissatisfied with or wishes to alter to align with their desired appearance.


Safety is a paramount concern within the field of plastic surgery. Like any surgical procedure, plastic surgery carries certain risks. However, advancements in medical technology, surgical techniques, and stringent safety protocols have significantly minimized the potential complications associated with these procedures. Plastic surgeons follow strict guidelines to ensure patient safety, including taking thorough medical histories, conducting comprehensive physical evaluations, and educating patients on the potential risks and benefits of their chosen procedures.

Reputable plastic surgeons also operate in accredited surgical facilities equipped with state-of-the-art equipment and adhere to strict infection control practices. They prioritize patient well-being throughout the entire surgical process, from the initial consultation to post-operative care. Additionally, patients are encouraged to follow pre and post-operative instructions provided by their surgeon to minimize risks and enhance their recovery.

Reconstructive vs. Aesthetic

The distinction between reconstructive and aesthetic procedures lies in their purpose and medical necessity. Reconstructive surgery aims to restore function or improve a person’s appearance due to conditions such as trauma, disease, or congenital defects. Its primary focus is on improving the patient’s quality of life, physical well-being, and restoring normalcy. Examples of reconstructive procedures include breast reconstruction after mastectomy, scar revision surgery, and hand surgery to improve function after an injury.

On the other hand, aesthetic or cosmetic procedures are considered elective and are performed solely for the purpose of enhancing one’s appearance. These procedures are typically not medically necessary and are sought after to boost self-esteem, improve self-confidence, or simply align with an individual’s desired look. Common aesthetic procedures include breast augmentation, liposuction, facelifts, and nose reshaping.

Insurance Coverage

Insurance coverage for plastic surgery varies depending on the type of procedure and the patient’s insurance policy. In general, reconstructive procedures that are deemed medically necessary due to injury, disease, or congenital defects are more likely to be covered by insurance. Examples of covered procedures often include breast reconstruction after mastectomy, skin grafting for burns, and reconstructive surgeries following accidents or trauma.

However, cosmetic procedures are typically not covered by insurance as they are considered elective and not medically necessary. It is important for patients considering cosmetic surgery to consult with their insurance provider and thoroughly understand their policy’s coverage limitations and requirements.

Risks and Complications

Although plastic surgery has become increasingly safe over the years, it is not without risks and potential complications. Common risks include infection, bleeding, scarring, adverse reactions to anesthesia, and poor wound healing. Each procedure carries its own set of specific risks, which should be thoroughly discussed with a qualified plastic surgeon prior to undergoing any surgery.

Complications resulting from plastic surgery can range from minor issues such as temporary bruising or swelling to more severe complications like nerve damage, blood clots, or asymmetry. However, the comprehensive evaluation, personalized surgical plan, and stringent safety measures provided by a qualified plastic surgeon significantly reduce the likelihood of experiencing serious complications.

It is imperative that individuals considering plastic surgery carefully research and consult with a board-certified plastic surgeon to fully grasp the potential risks and benefits associated with their desired procedure. Open communication, realistic expectations, and proper understanding of the procedure are key to ensuring a safe and successful outcome.

In conclusion, plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery differ in their focus, purpose, and medical necessity. Plastic surgery encompasses a wide array of procedures aimed at restoring form and function, while cosmetic surgery concentrates on enhancing aesthetic appearance. Both fields require extensive training, certification, and adhere to the highest safety standards. Whether seeking plastic or cosmetic surgery, it is crucial to consult with a qualified plastic surgeon to discuss goals, risks, and determine the best course of action to achieve the desired outcome. Remember, the ultimate goal of any surgical procedure is the safety and satisfaction of the patient.