Anyone thinking about having a procedure done to improve their appearance has enough to worry about without being entangled in a semantics debate, but unfortunately this is the case when it comes to plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery. More often than not, the media and even some clinics will use the two terms interchangeably, just as people use the words “attorney” and “lawyer” to mean the same thing. While the terms can sometimes refer to the same procedures, there are differences between the two that anyone considering a procedure should be aware of.
A cosmetic surgeon helps patients achieve improvements in their appearance. The procedures done under the cosmetic (or “aesthetic”, as some call it) banner are of an elective nature and can be performed on nearly every body part a patient possesses. From rhinoplasty to breast implants, these operations are intended to help a patient look better and feel better about themselves. While certain procedures may have a functional underpinning (rhinoplasty may correct breathing problems while simultaneously improving shape and size), the ultimate goal is aesthetic in nature.
A plastic surgeon is immersed in a specialty devoted to body reconstruction. Because “cosmetic” and “plastic” are so often used interchangeably, many plastic surgeons will refer to this area of their work as reconstructive surgery to make the delineation clear. These procedures can be done to help patients recover from a mastectomy, heal wounds from a serious burn injury, reconstruct facial tissue after head trauma, and more. Unlike cosmetic enhancement, which tackles body parts where there is no medical problem, plastic reconstructive surgery is intended to correct dysfunction in some form or fashion.
Common Cosmetic Operations
Cosmetic enhancement does not have to be limited to work done with a scalpel. Many surgeons have moved into the laser age, using the latest technology to reduce scarring, improve accuracy, and diminish recovery time. Many patients balk at the cost of facelift procedures or liposuction cost. As a result, many surgeons make extensive use of procedures that are almost entirely non-invasive such as laser dermabrasion and BOTOX. Some common examples of the cosmetic discipline include liposuction, breast augmentation, breast lift, rhinoplasty, face lift, and abdominoplasty.
Procedures Performed by Plastic Surgeons
While many procedures will fall under the heading of both plastic and aesthetic surgery, there are those that will only fall into one category or the other. Examples of this for plastic surgeons include skin grafting, breast reconstruction, microsurgery procedures to address tumors, facial defect correction (cleft lip, for instance), and scar revision.
As of now, there are no schools or programs dedicated specifically to aesthetic surgery. Doctors who wish to go into the field obtain most of the training after they have completed their original residency program. Some doctors may even practice a different specialty for years before deciding to go back for training in cosmetic procedures.
The American Board of Plastic Surgeons has gone a long way to protect their brand and, in doing so, has created a few misconceptions among the public. While choosing a doctor who is board certified guarantees you that this surgeon has completed a certain amount of training, it guarantees nothing in respect to their expertise in cosmetic enhancement. The training they are required to pass may include little or nothing about the procedure you intend to have done.
Choosing the Right Doctor
If you want to choose a doctor who will deliver safe, excellent results, you have to look further than their certifications or what they happen to call themselves on the marquee. Look at their educational background, patient reviews, and—most importantly—their portfolio of work. Cosmetic enhancement is based on aesthetic appeal and it is as much of an art as it is a science. Art takes talent, so make sure that your doctor has it.