What’s the Difference Between Cosmetic Surgery and Plastic Surgery?

People commonly use the terms cosmetic surgery and plastic surgery interchangeably, leading to a misconception that they are referring to the same medical specialty. In fact, while the two are related in some of the techniques used, they are two very different disciplines. Let’s look briefly at some of the primary differences between cosmetic surgery and plastic surgery.

Face of woman and doctor hands. Plastic surengy concept.Plastic surgery is reconstructive; cosmetic surgery is elective.

Perhaps the most notable difference between these two surgical disciplines is the end goal of each. Plastic surgery deals with correcting and reconstructing parts of the face or body that are defective, whether by birth, disease or accident. Examples might include skin grafts for burn victims, reconstructing a broken nose or repairing a cleft palate. Plastic surgery is generally considered necessary and may even be covered by insurance.

Cosmetic surgery, on the other hand, describes any surgical procedure that is aesthetic in nature, serving to improve physical appearance—for example, liposuction, tummy tucks, breast reduction/augmentation or any of a number of facial enhancements like eyebrow lifts or rhinoplasty. Because these body parts are functional prior to surgery, cosmetic procedures only change the appearance, and are therefore elective surgeries.

Different educational paths

In terms of medical education, plastic surgery is considered a specialty practice similar to other surgical specialties, meaning the surgeon goes through medical school and a general surgical residency before receiving specialized training in plastic surgery—a process lasting 6-8 years.

Cosmetic surgery requires a separate training path, either in addition to this process or alongside another path. Some plastic surgeons go on to become cosmetic surgeons, but any medical specialist may receive the training and certification for cosmetic surgery, not just plastic surgeons. Some specialists opt to incorporate cosmetic procedures that relate to their particular discipline. For this reason, it’s important to ask any doctor claiming to be a cosmetic surgeon about their credentials and board certification.

At Riverside Oral & Facial Surgery, our surgeons are trained oral and maxillofacial surgeons — a medical/dental specialty discipline that incorporates both plastic and cosmetic surgical training for procedures of the face and jaw. As a result, we are highly qualified and board certified to perform necessary reconstructive facial procedures as well as elective physical enhancements. To learn more about the services we offer, call us today at 706-235-5570.