For many people, plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery is the same thing, but in fact, cosmetic surgery is only part of the work carried out by plastic surgeons. Generally, the term plastic surgery refers to the branch of surgery specializing in repairing and enhancing the external areas of the body. It has nothing to do with the material called plastic, but is derived from the Greek plastikos, meaning something formed or molded.
Two Main Components
Within this general definition, the specialism can be broadly subdivided into cosmetic and reconstructive surgery. Cosmetic procedures are carried out mainly according to the patient’s wishes, to bring about a desired improvement in appearance, while reconstructive surgery aims to correct abnormalities in skin and tissue caused by trauma, illness or birth defects. However, there is considerable overlap between the two, as many procedures can be, and are, carried out for both reasons.
Reconstructive surgery is performed to restore skin and tissues, and bring them back as close to their normal function as possible. It can be used for birth abnormalities like cleft palate, areas of the body damaged by removal of tumors and other cancerous tissue, and burns or other serious injuries, such as those sustained in road accidents. Improving appearance is important, but is a secondary objective to the restorative function.
One of the most common reconstructive procedures is breast reconstruction, following breast surgery such as mastectomy or lumpectomy. Breast reconstruction can involve using skin flap techniques (transferring living tissue, including blood vessels, from another part of the body), fat transfer, and/or breast implants. It can be carried out during the actual breast surgery, or months or years later.
Another very common procedure is reconstruction of the skin following the removal of a cancerous tumor or lesion. These procedures vary greatly, depending on the patient and the location of the lesion, but they can involve skin flap techniques, skin grafts, or tissue expansion, in which surrounding tissue is stretched to help the body develop extra skin. In some cases, it can also involve bone grafting (taking bone from the skull) or cartilage grafting (taking cartilage from the rib or ear).
For children, plastic surgeons can perform life-changing surgery by correcting a cleft lip and palate, a birth defect in which bone and tissues in the mouth do not meet and leave a gap. The plastic surgeon can use a special technique on the lip to sew the two sides together. The palate can be rebuilt by using tissue from either side of the mouth, to fill the space.
Cosmetic surgical procedures aim to improve physical appearance, at the patient’s request. Often the patient is convinced, rightly or wrongly, that a particular feature flaws his or her appearance. Although many consider that this surgery is purely for vanity, it can often have a major psychological effect, in improving the patient’s confidence and self-esteem.
One of the most common cosmetic procedures is rhinoplasty, which is the reshaping of the nose. In most cases, it results in a reduction in the size of the nose. Although it is most often done to improve appearance, it can also be carried out to improve function, in cases where the patient has breathing problems.
Another extremely common procedure is the facelift or rhytidectomy, which is often done together with a nose job. It is used for removing wrinkles and providing a more youthful appearance. Usually an incision is made near the ear, the deeper tissues are tightened with sutures, then the skin is redraped, and excess skin removed.
Abdominoplasty, commonly known as a tummy tuck, involves the reshaping and firming of the abdomen. The surgeon removes excess fat and skin from the abdomen, and tightens the muscles of the abdominal wall. This is very popular with women following pregnancy, or after losing a lot of weight.
Choosing a Plastic Surgeon
Because plastic surgical procedures can affect your whole life, choosing the right plastic surgeon is of the utmost importance. In the first place, you need to check that the surgeon is certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, and preferably also a member of a professional organization such as the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. You should also check the surgeon’s record with your state medical board, including any disciplinary action.
Look for a surgeon who specializes in the exact type of surgery you require. When you have narrowed it down to two or three, interview them to ensure they make you feel confident. Avoid any surgeon who is not up front about possible risks, does not welcome questions, or is not able or willing to provide before and after photos.
Like any other type of surgery, plastic surgery is not risk free, and you always need to weigh the risks against the benefits. However, there are many plastic surgeons out there who can provide a superb, life-changing and life-enhancing service for you. Just remember that there is only one person who is an expert on your appearance, and that is you.