Plastic Surgery History

Although many people think of plastic and cosmetic surgery as a relatively recent innovation, the practice of surgically enhancing or restoring parts of the body actually had its beginnings a few thousand years ago. Since ancient times, a constant pursuit of knowledge has forged the art of plastic surgery into its present form.

In many ways, the evolution of plastic surgery has followed the same path that most technology has taken throughout the ages, moving forward in a series of hesitant steps and confident leaps to arrive at its current form.

Highlights of Plastic Surgery History:

600 B.C. – Substrata, a doctor in India, developed a procedure to reconstruct the nose by removing a portion of skin from elsewhere on the face and applying it to the nasal area.

100 B.C. – Romans begin using plastic surgery to improve self-image.

  • Wealthy women had procedures performed to correct their stretched ears from being weighed down by heavy earrings.
  • Freed slaves underwent procedures to remove or cover the brands used to mark them as property.
  • Various reconstructive procedures were tried on the constant supply of Roman soldiers.
  • Opium capsules and alcohol pain relief were used, but patients were always awake during procedures.
  • Primitive versions of surgical tools used today were used during this time including forceps, scalpels and bone drills.


900 B.C. – The “Italian Method” of rhinoplasty is created using skin from the forearm versus facial skin.


1818 – The word “Plastic” was first used to describe cosmetic surgery by Karl Ferdinand von Graeme.


1827 – The first American plastic surgeon was John Peter Mett Auer, who performed the first cleft palate operation with instruments that he designed himself.


1895 – The first documented breast augmentation surgery is performed by transplanting tissue from the back to the breast.


1899 – The first injectable materials used for breast implants were introduced and included paraffin, beeswax and vegetable oil.


1914-1918 – Plastic surgery is used during World War I to treat soldiers’ horrific injuries. New techniques are developed during this time, including pioneering skin-grafting and maxillofacial-surgical methods.


1924 – Dr. John Davis establishes the first formal training program and fellowship in plastic surgery at Johns Hopkins.


1950’s – New cleft lip and palate surgical techniques offer life changing results for thousands with facial deformities.

1962 – The first silicone breast implant is unveiled.

1982 – Liposuction is introduced in the United States for the first time. “Lipolysis” techniques had been performed in France prior to this.

1990’s – More than one million cosmetic procedures performed annually in the U.S. during this time.

1992 – Silicone implants become restricted by the FDA, leaving saline as the only option for augmentation.

2010 – In a grueling 24-hour operation involving 30 professionals, Spanish surgeons complete the world’s first full-face transplant on a 31-year-old man who accidentally shot himself while hunting.

Plastic Surgery Today

Cosmetic surgeons continue to innovate, and patients reap the benefits of new technologies and procedures every year. Plastic surgery is an ever evolving and growing industry that provides beauty enhancement and reconstructive procedures to millions.

If you are looking for a cosmetic plastic surgeon, please contact Dr. David W. Allison at 703-754-8228 or to schedule your consultation today.