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Plastic Surgeon vs Cosmetic Surgeon

If you have been looking for a plastic surgeon and are wondering whether there’s really a difference between ‘cosmetic’ and ‘plastic’, then you are not alone. A 2017 survey published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery found that a lot of people clearly didn’t understand the difference between these two terms. In this article, we explain the difference so you are better informed when researching procedures and surgeons who are best suited to perform them. 

What is cosmetic surgery? 

Cosmetic surgery refers to procedures, principles, and techniques that are essentially designed to enhance a patient’s appearance. The goal may be to improve symmetry, aesthetic appeal, or proportion in line with the patient’s unique goals and expectations. Aesthetic or cosmetic surgery may be performed on nearly any part of the body, including the face, neck, breasts, abdomen, back, buttocks, arms, and legs. Because cosmetic surgeries are not intended to treat areas that aren’t functioning properly, they are considered to be elective in nature. These treatments may be performed by professionals from a wide range of fields, including dermatologists and plastic surgeons. 

Types of cosmetic surgeries 

Some examples of cosmetic surgery procedures include the following categories: 

  • Breast enhancement – procedures in this category include breast enlargement, breast lifts (mastopexy), and breast reduction. 
  • Facial procedures – examples include rhinoplasty, cheek enhancement, chin augmentation, facelift surgery, eyelid surgery, brow lift, and neck lift. 
  • Body contouring – some examples of body contouring cosmetic procedures are abdominoplasty, gynecomastia, Brazilian butt lift, arm lift, thigh lift, and liposuction. 
  • Skin rejuvenation – these are usually minimally invasive cosmetic treatments that include the likes of BOTOX, laser resurfacing, and dermal fillers. 

What is plastic surgery?

Plastic surgery is generally focused on repairing defects or reconstructing different parts of the body in order to restore normal function and appearance. This type of surgery is commonly used to correct birth defects and alleviate the effects of burns, trauma, and diseases. The training provided to professionals in this category is reconstructive in nature, although others chose to pursue additional training so they can perform cosmetic surgery procedures as well. 

Types of plastic surgery procedures 

Good examples of procedures that can be classified as plastic surgeries include the following:

  • Breast reconstruction surgery 
  • Burn repair 
  • Lower extremity reconstruction 
  • Congenital defect repairs for cleft palate
  • Scar revision 
  • Hand surgery 

Plastic vs Cosmetic Surgeon: Training 

According to the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, training for plastic surgeons and cosmetic surgeons looks different and is focused on varying goals. For instance, the American Board of Plastic Surgery requires training in at least ONE of six categories (hand surgery, trauma surgery, disorders, reconstructive surgery, congenital defect repair, or cosmetic surgery). Cosmetic surgeons, on the other hand, are required by their board to have training in ALL categories namely tummy tuck, face surgery, breast surgery, liposuction, and other cosmetic surgeries. 

Training for cosmetic surgeons is primarily completed following residency training whereas training for plastic surgeons is usually completed via a post-graduate residency program. 

What is board certification? 

Plastic surgeons and cosmetic surgeons are certified by different boards and usually have unique certification requirements. Plastic surgeons are certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS). To be certified, surgeons need to have completed at least 6 – 8 years of specialized training by a recognized training program in the US. Plastic surgeons may also be certified by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS).

Cosmetic surgeons, on the other hand, are exclusively certified by the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery (ABCS). It is however important to note that any doctor, including oral surgeons and dermatologists, may refer to themselves as ‘cosmetic surgeons’ even if they don’t have board certification.