Know The Differences: Cosmetic Surgery vs. Plastic Surgery

Have you ever wondered exactly what differentiates plastic and cosmetic surgery? Maybe you thought they were one and the same. Well you’re not alone! But there are distinct differences between the two, and we are here to walk you through them!

What is Cosmetic Surgery?

While it’s true that cosmetic surgery is a form of plastic surgery, it’s primarily used to enhance a patient’s appearance. Unlike some other plastic surgery procedures, cosmetic surgery is rarely covered in health insurance plans. Lifts, reductions, and augmentations are the main types of cosmetic surgeries, but more specifically types of cosmetic surgeries include:

  • Facial rejuvenation, where underlying skin and tissue in the face is tightened to give the patient a more youthful look. This includes facelifts, eyelid lifts, neck lifts, and brow lifts.
  • Abdominoplasty, a form of body contouring to remove excess fat and tissue around the stomach. Included in this category are tummy tucks, liposuction, and male gynecomastia treatments.
  • Breast Enhancement, which improves the appearance of the breasts, and can include breast augmentation, breast lifts, and breast reduction.
  • Facial Contouring which includes rhinoplasty, chin, or cheek enhancements.
  • Skin Rejuvenation, which refines the appearance of the skin with procedures that include laser resurfacing, Botox, and filler treatments.
Cosmetic surgeries can be performed on almost every area of the head, neck, and body. The key goals are to improve the aesthetic appeal, symmetry, and natural proportion of the areas of the procedure. Because cosmetic surgeries usually treat areas that function normally, they are typically designated as elective surgeries and subsequently do not often qualify for health care coverage. Elective procedures can also be performed by doctors in a variety of medical fields, including board-certified plastic surgeons.

What is Plastic Surgery?

Plastic surgery includes both cosmetic and reconstructive surgeries encompassing treatment for burns, conditions affecting the head and face, and microsurgery. The “plastic” comes from the Greek word “plastikos,” meaning “to mold.” A good plastic surgeon is like a sculptor, molding the body in the places where he or she operates.

Types of plastic surgery procedures include:

  • Breast reduction, which removes extra fat, tissue, and skin from the breast that previously caused neck pain, back pain, or other symptoms.
  • Burn Repair Surgery, which helps to improve the function and cosmetic appearance of burn scars, and can involve altering scar tissue with both nonoperative and operative treatment.
  • Congenital Defect Repair, which helps correct head and facial abnormalities that make activities such as eating, speaking, or breathing difficult. These repairs encompass cleft palates and extremities.
  • Lower Extremity Reconstruction, which focuses on the treatment of wounds and defects that are secondary offshoots from trauma, cancer, or chronic disease. It combines plastic surgery with state-of-the-art foot and ankle surgery to help restore function and appearance to the foot, ankle, or lower leg.
  • Hand surgery, also called arthroplasty, can include procedures to treat traumatic injuries to the hands, including closed-fist injuries, congenital deformities, repetitive stress injuries, arthritic deformities, and other similar disorders that affect joints and tendons in the hand.
  • Scar Revision surgery, which can involve relocating scars. This can be medically necessary to restore function to affected parts of the body, or to relieve symptoms such as pain. It is also sometimes sought for cosmetic reasons, but can have risks and potential complications.


Reconstructive Plastic Surgery

Plastic surgery that’s used to help restore function and a normal appearance to an abnormal part of the body is called reconstructive surgery. This is often used on conditions resulting from accidents, trauma, mastectomy, or other surgical removals of diseased body parts.

Birth defects are also included in the arena of reconstructive surgery to correct abnormalities. Because it’s being used to help restore the normal functioning of a body part or to address a medical condition, reconstructive surgery is often covered by health insurance.

Cosmetic and reconstructive surgeries can intersect with each other in some circumstances, such as in a breast reconstruction following a mastectomy. Even though the procedure has an esthetic component, it’s considered a medically necessary surgery. The goal for the plastic surgeon is to create a new breast that matches the other one, and to make the bosom look as natural as possible.

What’s the difference between Cosmetic Surgeons and Plastic Surgeons?

Cosmetic surgeons can be general surgeons that have been trained to perform cosmetic procedures like liposuction, breast augmentation, and other procedures, and a plastic surgeon can choose to become a cosmetic surgeon with training. However, most state laws currently allow any licensed physician to call him or herself a plastic or cosmetic surgeon even if they haven’t been trained as a plastic surgeon or have had no surgical training at all! This is why it’s so important that, when seeking out a surgeon, you are careful to examine your chosen practitioner’s experience and qualifications.

Training to become a cosmetic surgeon is completed primarily after the surgeon completes residency training. Currently, there are no residency training programs in the United States that are devoted to cosmetic surgery exclusively, so completing a post-residency fellowship training program in cosmetic surgery is the typical path.

The experience and knowledge that accompanies the training in becoming a board-certified cosmetic surgeon is a specialization that goes above and beyond what it might take to become board certified in plastic surgery. Board-certified cosmetic surgeons complete a one-year, American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery certified fellowship training exclusively in cosmetic surgery. Surgeons receive thorough training that encompasses all surgical procedures of the face, breast, and body in addition to non-surgical cosmetic treatments, totaling over a minimum of 300 individual procedures.

Plastic surgeons must undergo more rigorous training, which includes a three-year residency, and then three years of training in plastic surgery procedures. To become a board-certified plastic surgeon, it can take as many as eight years. A physician who becomes a certified plastic surgeon is required to complete one of two routes of training:

  1. An integrated residency training program combining three years of general surgery and three years of plastic surgery, or;
  2. An independent, five-year residency program in general surgery, followed by a three-year plastic surgery residency program.

Are you considering cosmetic or plastic surgery?

At Aristocrat Plastic Surgery & MedAesthetics, we believe that plastic surgery should be more than a procedure. It should foster a sense of artistry and expression. Top New York plastic surgeon Dr. Kevin Tehrani offers the best in reconstructive and plastic surgery, as well as non-surgical treatments. During your consultation, Dr. Tehrani will make sure that every decision will be made as a collaborative effort with your well-being in mind. As you work together, Dr. Tehrani will treat your journey through cosmetic and plastic surgery with absolute respect, based on a foundation of patient satisfaction and top-notch care. Schedule a consultation today!
woman laying on an operating table with pre-surgery marks on her face