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  • Writer's pictureCosmetic Surgery Grants

The Difference between Cosmetic & Plastic Surgery

Updated: Nov 1, 2019


Cosmetic surgery and plastic surgery are, in fact, not interchangeable as many people believe. The two are closely related specialties with a few key differences. The reason the terms are often confused is due to public misconceptions. For example, many incorrectly believe plastic surgery involves the use of plastic (or silicone) when referring to implants.

Cosmetic Surgery

Cosmetic Surgery focuses on enhancing appearance and is aesthetic in nature. The main goal of cosmetic surgery is to alter a body part (or parts) for symmetry, proportion, and aesthetics. Cosmetic Surgery is an elective procedure because the treated areas are functioning properly.

Some common procedures include:

  • breast enhancement (breast augmentation, breast lift, breast reduction)

  • facial contouring (rhinoplasty/nose job)

  • facial rejuvenation (face lift, neck lift)

  • body contouring (tummy tuck, liposuction)

  • skin rejuvenation (Botox, fillers, laser treatments)

Breast Augmentation Cosmetic Surgery

Plastic Surgery

Plastic surgery focuses on repairing defects and is reconstructive in nature. The main goal of plastic surgery is to reconstruct a body part (or parts) for normal function and appearance. Plastic surgery is often not an elective procedure and is used to repair defects due to birth disorders, trauma, burns, and disease.

Some common procedures include:

  • breast reconstruction

  • burn repair

  • congenital defect repair (cleft palate)

  • hand surgery

  • scar revision surgery

Cleft Lip Reconstructive Plastic Surgery Phases

Another difference between cosmetic surgery and plastic surgery is the training the doctor undergoes. There are no specialty programs for cosmetic surgeons, so doctors who wish to practice cosmetic surgery usually have a background that includes medical school, a residency and/or fellowship program, preferably in a surgical specialty, usually followed by attaining board certification in that specialty, and post-residency training specifically in cosmetic surgery. The surgeon may go through a cosmetic surgery fellowship program, as well as through workshops, seminars and lectures. Physicians with significant experience in cosmetic surgery become certified by the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery (ABCS), which has established a strict set of criteria to ensure experience and proficiency specifically in cosmetic surgery.

For plastic surgeons, the process is similar in that after finishing medical school, they complete a residency and/or fellowship in plastic surgery, and then may become certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. At this point, a plastic surgeon's additional training in cosmetic surgery is optional.

The Cosmetic Surgery Grants program offers grants to help cover the cost of elective cosmetic procedures. To learn more about the program and about eligible treatments click here.

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