What is the Difference Between Cosmetic and Plastic Surgery?


What is the Difference Between Cosmetic and Plastic Surgery?

Cosmetic and plastic surgery terms are often used interchangeably. Although they incorporate closely related specialties, there are distinguishable differences between the two, namely that in simple terms, cosmetic is aesthetic (elective) and plastic is reconstructive (medical). Many surgeons can perform both options so how do you know which surgeon to call on for your procedure? What is the difference between cosmetic and plastic surgery?

Essentially the main difference between cosmetic and plastic surgery is in what is encompassed under the type of surgery. Cosmetic surgery refers exclusively to enhancement or rejuvenation in appearance such as body contouring (liposuction, tummy tuck), breast surgery (breast reduction, breast lift, breast augmentation), facial rejuvenation (brow lift, neck lift, eyelid lift, facelift) and skin rejuvenation (Botox, dermal fillers, laser resurfacing). Plastic surgery covers a broad scope of procedure types that work to restore or repair the body’s normal appearance and function that can include cosmetic surgery as well as scar revision, hand surgery, lower extremity reconstruction, congenital defect repair, burn repair and breast reconstruction.  

Training is also a major differentiating factor between cosmetic and plastic surgery. Cosmetic and plastic surgeries have different goals and require different certifications and training. Cosmetic surgery training follows a residency program in any medical specialty including general surgery, otolaryngology (ear, nose, and throat), head and neck surgery, gynecology, dermatology or plastic surgery. Currently, there are no residency programs in the United States devoted to training in cosmetic surgery. In post-residency training through  1-2 year fellowship, a physician can specialize in cosmetic surgery. Because this additional training is not required, it is important to find a cosmetic surgeon who is board-certified through the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery. Practitioners develop their cosmetic surgical skills through post-residency training and experience. Artistry and skill along with training and ongoing education will determine the quality of results you receive from a cosmetic surgeon as their technique will be unique to your personal goals.

Conversely, a plastic surgeon is a general surgeon who completes a 3-year residency in plastic surgery and then serves another 3 years in a fellowship, specializing in training of reconstructing and restoring dysfunctional features including microvascular and craniofacial aspects. The entire education process takes about 6-8 years to complete. Board-certification from the American Board of Plastic Surgery is the best indicator of the best-trained plastic surgeons. This certification tells the patient that their physician has passed a comprehensive series of oral and written exams, agrees to a strict code of ethics, performs surgery in a state-licensed accredited facility, and continues their training through educational courses each year.

Be sure you are receiving the highest level of care and expertise by knowing your surgeon’s credentials. For more information on how to select a cosmetic or plastic surgeon, visit WEBSITE. To schedule a consultation to meet with our team, contact David W. Allison, MD at 703-754-8228. 

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