Do I need Cosmetic or Plastic Surgery? The differences explained

The terms ‘Plastic Surgery’ and ‘Cosmetic Surgery’ are often used interchangeably or cause confusion: many people in the UK think that ‘Plastic Surgery’ is just the American term, when in fact it is a completely different field.

When looking into procedures to change the way you look, it is important to get the basic terminology correct so that any research you do or requests you make return the best results.

Plastic Surgery

Plastic Surgery was developed during the Second World War, when everyday surgeons had to learn the art of patching up serious injuries and repairing facial damage with as little scarring as possible. The term originates from the Greek word ‘Plastikos’, meaning “to mould or reshape”, which is deceptive as it now makes people think of artificiality and Barbie Dolls!

Modern Plastic Surgery is a highly skilled, specialist discipline tailored towards reconstruction i.e. fixing and rebuilding parts of the body or face which have become damaged (perhaps through accident or ill-health) or were born genetically “abnormal” in the eyes of the patient.

Patients may be referred for Plastic Surgery for medical reasons, so there may be a Doctor’’s influence behind the decision to undergo surgery.

Common Plastic Surgery procedures include Rhinoplasty (Nose Reconstruction) after breakage; Breast Reconstruction after Breast Cancer or Cleft Lip Repair.

Cosmetic Surgery

Cosmetic Surgery, on the other hand, is usually for aesthetic reasons to an otherwise “normal” body although this is often not merely for vanity but to improve a person’’s self-confidence and self-esteem (see our previous blog: Are Most Cosmetic Surgery Patients Vain?).

Cosmetic Surgery is elective (entirely the patient’’s own decision) and not for medical reasons.

Popular Cosmetic Surgery procedures include Breast Augmentation (enlargement); Abdominoplasty (Tummy Tuck); Liposuction; Mastopexy (Breast Uplift) and Facelift.

Some procedures obviously could fall into either category, depending entirely on the reason for having treatment.

Whilst Rhinoplasty due to breakage is Plastic Surgery, for example, if a patient opted for this procedure purely because they felt their nose was a bit large, it would be Cosmetic Surgery.

That said, somebody with a clearly out-of-proportionally huge nose could be argued to be having Plastic Surgery in this region: it becomes an interesting debate on “what is normal”.

Understanding which type of procedure you require is important as it could affect your approach to getting treatment. If you think you need Plastic Surgery, for example, you may want to research these specific types of procedure in books and websites targeted at Reconstruction for abnormalities/medical issues.

If you have not already got a GP referral, you may also want to make an appointment to do so as reconstructive surgery to correct, or improve, congenital abnormalities and injuries will usually be carried out free of charge on the NHS.

See this NHS web-page for more information on securing NHS funding for Plastic Surgery:

For Cosmetic Surgery, there a number of procedure options and Surgeons to choose from. It is hugely important to do your research carefully, pick a reputable BAAPS-registered surgeon who you feel comfortable with after consultation and be totally certain of the results you would like, what your surgery will involve and the potential complications.

There are numerous articles related to this in the Aurora Clinics Blog archives.

Thanks to the following sources for informing and guiding this article:

Stoppard, Miriam. What’s the Difference between plastic and Cosmetic Surgery? Daily Mirror. 25/01/11.