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With so many references to ‘plastic surgery’ in the media today, it’s a term that we’re all familiar with and have widely come to accept. But have you ever wondered where the ‘plastic’ in plastic surgery came from and what it actually means? Is it, for example, a different way of describing cosmetic surgery – are plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery the same thing? Here we discuss the history of the terms (which many people will find surprising!), explore what is meant by them, and learn how to differentiate between the two.

How did plastic surgery get its name?

The burning question – why is it called plastic surgery? Contrary to popular belief, the plastic in plastic surgery does not refer to the synthetic material, but is in fact derived from the Greek word, ‘Plastikos’, meaning to form or to mould. The same Greek word formed the basis of the English word plastic – for obvious reasons! As far as we know, surgery as a profession began in India in approximately 800 BC, when according to historical records, surgeons performed reconstructive surgery using skin flaps from patients’ foreheads to rebuild amputated noses. The ancient Egyptians and Romans are also known to have performed plastic surgery to restore defects in the face including ear and lip reconstruction. 

Are plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery the same thing?

Plastic surgery describes any type of surgery that aims to restore the function and appearance of a patients’ tissue and skin so it’s as close to ‘normal’ as possible. This includes surgery to treat parts of the body affected aesthetically or functionally by infection, tumours, disease, congenital defects, developmental abnormalities, or trauma. Plastic surgery on the other hand, is surgery carried out purely to change a person’s appearance and to achieve what they feel is a more desirable look. Whereas plastic surgery might see a surgeon remove skin abnormalities such as a birthmark, cancerous tissue or excess skin following weight loss, the term cosmetic surgery would describe a procedure such as a lip lift, and tends to be more frequently performed as a cosmetic benefit.

Do plastic surgeons and cosmetic surgeons have equal qualifications?

Because the terms ‘plastic’ and ‘cosmetic’ surgeon are used interchangeably by some, you’d be forgiven for thinking the two were equal, when in reality this is not the case. Whereas plastic surgeons are guaranteed to be trained in cosmetic surgery, general surgery, and reconstructive surgery, cosmetic surgeons do not come with this guarantee. Plastic surgeons have extensive training and belong to professional associations, such as the British Association of Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS).  Each of the surgeons at Coppergate Clinic are fully qualified plastic surgeons and members of BAPRAS so patients can rest assured they are in the safest of hands.

How do I know if I need a cosmetic surgeon or plastic surgeon for the procedure I’m considering?

As with most things in life, it really does pay to invest in the best. And so, whilst in theory a cosmetic surgeon may legally be authorised to perform the surgical procedure you are considering, it is always recommended to seek treatment with the most qualified, experienced and reputable surgeon you can. On successful completion of medical school, plastic surgeons must spend a further two years in a foundation programme and another two years in core surgical training before moving on to higher specialist training in plastic surgery.  The whole process can take six to eight years to complete. To gain the Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT), the trainee is required to pass the Intercollegiate Specialty Examination (FRCS Plast). Then and only then, the surgeon is eligible to be placed on the general medical council specialist register and is able to apply for consultant posts. The most committed plastic surgeons also go on to become BAAPS Members and are audited every year to ensure the highest levels of care can be maintained. By comparison, a person calling themselves a cosmetic surgeon may belong to any medical speciality and have a great deal less experience and fewer accreditations and assurances. As we touched on earlier, each of the surgeons at Coppergate Clinic are fully qualified plastic surgeons and members of BAPRAS for the absolute peace of mind of our patients.

How can I speak to a Coppergate Clinic surgeon?

Whether you’re looking for more advice on a specific surgical procedure, from breast augmentation to lower blepharoplasty, or want to discuss the wider options available to treat a skin, face or body concern, our team of surgeons are here to help. With consultations available with all Coppergate Clinic surgeons, you can be assured of the expert advice you deserve- all without obligation. Contact us today to find out more or book your consultation.

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