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cosmetic surgery vs. plastic surgery: is there a difference

Cosmetic surgery vs. plastic surgery: Is there a difference?

There are many misconceptions about the differences between cosmetic surgery and plastic surgery, and Dr. Alouf talks about some of those in our Q&A with Dr. Gregory Alouf. We wanted to clarify and expand on these differences in easy-to-understand language.

1. Cosmetic surgery and plastic surgery, simply defined

Cosmetic surgery enhances or restores the appearance of an area of the face or body for cosmetic purposes. The goal of cosmetic surgery is specifically to improve the cosmetic or aesthetic appearance, but it also can improve function.

Plastic surgery is surgery that reconstructs or restores function to an area of the face or body. In addition, plastic surgery also serves to enhance or improve the appearance of the affected area. Many plastic surgeons also perform some cosmetic surgical procedures.

Bottom line: Cosmetic surgery is more about form, whereas reconstructive plastic surgery is more about function.

2. Training for cosmetic and plastic surgeons

Both cosmetic surgeons and plastic surgeons complete four years of medical school. Plastic surgeons start training in general surgery and then follow with plastic surgery training. Most of the plastic surgery residencies focus primarily on reconstructive plastic surgery. Some examples of these include congenital defects, trauma, hand surgery and burns. Cosmetic surgery is taught during plastic surgery residencies, but to a lesser extent.

Cosmetic surgeons, like Dr. Alouf, have post-medical school training as well, including a residency. Post-residency, they continue extensive training, focusing solely on cosmetic surgeries and treatments, including procedures for the breast and face, as well as liposuction, tummy tucks, fat transfer and many other treatments. A lot of cosmetic surgeons also pursue expanded training in cosmetic specialties, such as cosmetic laser medicine.

Bottom line: A board certification in plastic surgery does not ensure you’re getting a specialist in cosmetic surgical procedures. Also, studies show that board certification in plastic surgery does not ensure better outcomes or safety in cosmetic surgical procedures.  

3. Examples of cosmetic surgeries and plastic surgeries

Cosmetic surgery examples include, but are not limited to, many of the procedures you know: breast augmentation, breast lift, face lifts, tummy tucks, liposuction, fat transfer and other procedures that enhance the appearance. Because of the increased popularity and social acceptance of cosmetic surgery in recent years, the list of procedure types continues to grow, making it vitally important for cosmetic surgeons and plastic surgeons to continue to pursue training.

Plastic surgery examples include, but aren’t limited to, corrective surgery for cleft lip and cleft palate, reconstructive surgery following major surgery, such as a mastectomy, or surgeries following accidents, trauma and severe illness. Plastic surgery is also used to correct congenital defects and disorders.

Bottom line: Cosmetic surgery improves aesthetics and some function. Reconstructive plastic surgery primarily improves function.

4. Physical and emotional benefits of plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery

Physically, the goal of cosmetic surgery is to improve the appearance of an area of the body the patient is or has always been unhappy with due to aging, childbirth or personal preference. Emotionally, the improvement in appearance gives the patient increased self-esteem and confidence. We see amazing turnarounds in our office.

Physically, the goal of reconstructive plastic surgery is to repair an injury or defect, to create normal function or to restore normal function. Emotionally, the effects can be similar to those of cosmetic surgery.

Bottom line: In both cases, it’s important for physicians to assess the emotional health of patients before surgery and make sure they have realistic expectations to get the best results.

If you’re considering any kind of scheduled surgery — cosmetic or otherwise — address questions and concerns with the surgeon during your presurgical consultation, including any questions you have about the surgeon’s experience, training or credentials.

For more information about cosmetic surgical procedures, call our office at 540-375-9070 to schedule a surgical consultation with Dr. Alouf