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Cosmetic Surgery and Plastic Surgery | What Is the Difference?

By May 15, 2021June 20th, 2022Uncategorized

Definitions, Differences, and Tips 

S ometimes, it is hard to find the right doctor for you because you do not know what exactly to look for.
In the last few years, procedures such as Botox injections, Microdermabrasion, and facelift that focus on aesthetics have witnessed significant changes.
Therefore, people become confused about the right doctor for them.

One of the biggest issues for most people is that plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery are usually hard to differentiate. Cosmetic surgery is considered part of plastic surgery. On the other hand, cosmetic surgeons only perform cosmetic procedures and cannot perform plastic surgeries.

If you are still confused, that is okay because according to a Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery report in 2017, most people find it confusing to differentiate between plastic and cosmetic surgeons. (1)
The survey included 5,135 people. 87% of them believed that surgeons should have additional training to be able to perform cosmetic surgeons and market themselves as plastic or cosmetic surgeons. 50% of them did not know any of the requirements needed to be “board certified.”

That is why it is essential to clarify this confusion to help people find the right doctors for their conditions.

What Is Plastic Surgery?

Plastic surgery refers to essential procedures that must be performed by plastic surgeons to repair damages or restore tissues.

Plastic surgery examples include:

  • Skin Grafts: It is a plastic surgery procedure involving the removal of skin from an area of the body and transplanting it to another area that has lost its skin due to injuries, burns, or diseases. (2)
  • Breast Reconstruction: This procedure replaces the breast tissue lost after performing mastectomy. (3, 4, 5)
  • Birthmark Removal: Birthmarks may reduce the quality of life. Therefore, it may be essential to remove them. (6, 7)

Plastic surgery is a wide field, which consists of two types (8, 9):

  1. Reconstructive Plastic Surgery: This specialty focuses on treating, reconstructing, and repairing body parts that are affected either functionally or aesthetically. The causes for having reconstructive plastic surgery usually include tumors, infections, congenital deformities, diseases, or traumas. Other less common causes include microsurgery, rhinoplasty, or carpal tunnel surgery. The main aim of this kind of operation is to restore or return a certain tissue to its normal state.
  2. Cosmetic Plastic Surgery: Which is more about reshaping or enhancing certain body parts. It is part of the plastic surgery field, which means that plastic surgeons can perform cosmetic procedures.

Figure 1 – Coverage of burnt skin areas with homologous skin from
a cadaver.

What Is Cosmetic Surgery?

Cosmetic or aesthetic surgeries are procedures that aim to improve people’s appearances to enhance their self-esteem. People are usually healthy before cosmetic surgery. Some consider cosmetic surgery non-essential in medicine. However, it can have strong emotional benefits on people since it can visually improve any body parts that people may feel ashamed or embarrassed about.

Cosmetic surgery examples include:

  • Breast Augmentation: It is a cosmetic surgery procedure done using breast implants to increase the size, re-shape, or change the texture of women’s breasts. (10)
  • Tummy Tucks (Abdominoplasty): It is a cosmetic procedure that aims to improve the abdomen’s appearance and overall body image. During the procedure, the surgeon removes any excess skin and fat, tightens the fascia in the abdomen with sutures, and reposition the remaining skin to give the abdomen a toned look. (11)
  • Hair Replacement or Restoration: It is a cosmetic procedure done to move hair to bald areas of the head. (12)

Figure 2 – Post-operative result of a healed trichophytic closure.

What Is the Difference Between Cosmetic Surgery and Plastic Surgery?

Reconstructive plastic surgeries are usually covered under insurance while cosmetic surgeries are elective procedures and are not usually covered.
For example, breast reconstruction after removing all breast tissue (which is called mastectomy) is a procedure done only by plastic surgeons. On the other hand, breast augmentation is a cosmetic procedure that can be done by a cosmetic or plastic surgeon.

Both plastic and cosmetic surgeries are usually surgical and minimally invasive. In some cases, they can be even non-surgical.
While most people think that plastic surgery is cosmetic, the opposite is true. (13, 14)

What Cosmetic Surgeries Are Covered by Insurance?

Insurance can cover cosmetic surgeries if they are done for functional purposes only, not for improving appearance. In these cases, patients get both cosmetic and functional benefits.
The most common cosmetic surgeries covered by insurance are eyelid and breast-reduction surgeries. Patients who are at risk of vision loss due to excess skin are qualified for eyelid surgeries while women who may have problems due to their breast size and excessive weight are qualified for breast-reduction surgeries.

What Is “Board Certified?

Board certification determines surgeons’ qualifications. Each board has different requirements to measure the surgeon’s knowledge, educations, and experience before certifying them. It is essential to check your surgeon’s credentials and board certification carefully. You can even give the board a call to find out more about its certification requirements before going under the knife.

For example, board-certified plastic surgeons in the United States are certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS), which provides a plastic surgery certification under the American Board of Medical Specialties. The certification indicates that the surgeon completed 6 to 8 years of special plastic training, which is regulated by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME).

What Should You Be Aware of Before Choosing A Surgeon?

Another big problem is that many patients seek other doctors for cosmetic procedures. For example, some dentists and gynecologists provide a few cosmetic options. However, they do not provide their patients with all the options and they may not be able to handle any complications that may occur.
In other words, they can perform a few procedures. Therefore, they will not give you all the choices according to your requirements. The choices they give are based on their fields. They do not get the proper training to offer their patients all the cosmetic solutions.

Also, some physicians market themselves as cosmetic doctors. They get one or more training on certain cosmetic procedures. Yet, they are not qualified to be cosmetic surgeons.
These physicians provide their patients with a narrow range of treatment options. Therefore, the patients may not understand all the options available for their conditions.
On the other hand, cosmetic surgeons give their patients all the options and recommend the best option according to the patient’s condition and specific needs.

Another problem is that any physician who has a valid medical license can perform cosmetic procedures regardless of the training, which means that they can advertise as cosmetic surgeons.

Many cosmetic surgeons say that they see patients daily who have procedures done but were not the best option for them. The poor results usually happen because the patients are not properly informed on all the options they have.

What to Look for in A Plastic or Cosmetic Surgeon?

Most plastic surgeons perform cosmetic surgeries. According to the surgeon’s expertise, patients may need to look for other terms such as “cosmetic and plastic surgeon”, “facial cosmetic surgeon”, and “reconstructive surgeon” to find the right doctor for their conditions.

In addition to the surgeon’s title, patients should look for these items:

  • Board Certification: Check the surgeon’s board certification, specialty area, and other information before the surgery to make sure that the surgeon is totally qualified to perform the procedure.
  • Experience: Experience means that the surgeon performs the required procedure regularly and with great results. Do not be shy to ask the surgeon about the number of times he/she has performed the same procedure in the last two years. Besides, ask about the possible complications and what the surgeon will do if one of them occurred.
  • The Quality of Care: Ask about the quality of care at the hospital or surgical center where the procedure will be performed. Make sure the quality of care is high.
  • Patient Satisfaction: High patient satisfaction is a good indication of the patient’s experience and quality of care.

How QOVES Studio Can Help


Skin Retouching

Our range of skin retouching services can help you hide the appearance of a range of ageing signs among other cosmetic improvements for Instagram, commercial modelling or E-commerce productions.

Facial Aesthetics Report

Have your facial proportion and harmony be analyzed into a comprehensive report and learn about how you can improve your aesthetic.

Facial Morphs

Have our team of photo editors morph your face into more ideal proportions for a visual look at what can be achieved with surgery, exercise and muscle hypertrophy.

Find A Doctor

We’re working on building a comprehensive directory of approved plastic surgeons and practices near you that show a strong understanding of aesthetic medicine with a proven track record.

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Dr Khaled Mahmoud

A medical researcher with more than 5 years of professional academic and medical writing experience. My main goal is to provide readers with evidence-based, data-driven, detail-oriented content to help them make the best choices.