Is It Plastic Surgery or Cosmetic Surgery?
Many people use the terms “plastic surgery” and “cosmetic surgery” interchangeably, to refer to an elective surgical procedure that’s done in a healthy person in order to change the body in some way. You may wonder which term is correct. Is the choice of terminology just a style preference? Or are “plastic surgery” and “cosmetic surgery” two different things?
What is Plastic Surgery?
Plastic surgery is the branch of surgery that deals with the correction or restoration of form. The term “plastic” is used in the sense of something being malleable (i.e., it can be changed or molded). It has nothing to do with the material called plastic being used during surgery, although sometimes plastic may be a component of an implant that’s inserted into the body during plastic surgery.
So “plastic surgery” essentially means “surgery to change the shape of the body”. Under this general type of surgery come a few other types. Basically, plastic surgery has two branches, corresponding to the two reasons for wanting to alter the shape of the body: reconstructive surgery and cosmetic surgery.
Reconstructive surgery aims to bring a bodily structure back to its original shape after it’s been altered in some way. The damage to the body may have been caused by medical treatment for another medical condition, such as a mastectomy (removal of one or both breasts) in a woman with breast cancer; or it may have been caused by an injury, such as a severe burn on the hand. Reconstructive surgery aims to bring the body back to the way it was before the damage, or as close as possible. For instance, the woman who’s had a mastectomy may later undergo a reconstructive breast augmentation, or the person whose hand was burned may undergo skin grafting to replace the scarred skin with fresh skin. These procedures would be considered plastic surgery, and more specifically would be reconstructive plastic surgery.
Cosmetic surgery is the branch of plastic surgery that aims to alter a healthy person’s body. This is what the majority of people mean when they refer to “plastic surgery.” A woman whose breasts are genetically small, who chooses a breast augmentation, would be having plastic surgery, and more specifically, cosmetic plastic surgery.
The Grey Area Between the Categories
Sometimes, it’s unclear which category a procedure falls into. For instance, consider a man who’s experienced significant weight loss, and is having a tummy tuck to remove the extra skin from his abdomen. He could potentially be considered to be having cosmetic surgery, because it’s elective and concerned with his appearance, or reconstructive surgery, because it’s intended to restore his body to a normal state after his weight loss (which may have taken place due to bariatric surgery).
In most cases, insurance companies classify body lifts after massive weight loss to be cosmetic procedures, because they’re entirely elective and intended only to improve the person’s appearance. (This is true even when the bariatric surgery that caused the weight loss was itself covered by insurance.) However, they nearly always consider breast augmentation after mastectomy to be reconstructive, even though it’s also entirely elective and intended only to improve the person’s appearance. There’s a bit of a grey area between the two types of plastic surgery. Because reconstructive procedures are usually covered by insurance, while cosmetic procedures are almost never covered, the determination of which category a procedure falls in can have huge consequences for those who are having it. The only way to be sure where your insurance company classifies certain plastic surgical procedures is to call them and check, because companies vary as to how they classify those procedures in the grey area.
So, is it Plastic Surgery or Cosmetic Surgery?
If you’re referring to surgery that’s done in order to enhance a body that hasn’t been damaged, then either term would be correct. Plastic surgery is the more general term, while cosmetic surgery is more specific. Sometimes, the same plastic surgical procedure might be cosmetic or reconstructive, depending on the situation. For instance, a breast augmentation done on a woman with two healthy breasts would be cosmetic surgery, while a breast augmentation done on a woman who’s had a mastectomy would be reconstructive surgery.
At Doctor Review, our mission is to give you the most accurate, up-to-date information about elective medical procedures. Because we’re focused on the procedures you choose, rather than the ones you require because of an illness or injury, we use the terms “plastic surgery” and “cosmetic surgery” interchangeably, with the understanding that reconstructive surgery is a topic for another website. So call it whatever you like; just make sure you’re well-informed, so that you’re choosing the best procedure(s) for you!