PLASTIC or COSMETIC SURGEON…What’s the Difference?

Confusing terminology could result in misinformed patients.

A plastic surgeon is sometimes asked, “What is Plastic Surgery? Are you going to use plastic to fix me?”   Actually, the field of plastic surgery was so named based on the Greek word “plastikos” which means “to mold.”


Plastic surgery training encompasses procedures to restore and enhance the beauty of the body (cosmetic surgery) as well as procedures to correct defects or deformities (reconstructive surgery).  Cosmetic surgery, therefore, is a sub-category of plastic surgery.

PLASTIC SURGERY: The very broad field of plastic surgery is generally divided into the sub-categories of Cosmetic Surgery and Reconstructive Surgery.  Therefore, real Plastic Surgeons have completed an accredited residency training program in plastic surgery have received extensive training in both cosmetic and reconstructive surgery.  After completing plastic surgery residency, some Plastic Surgeons focus their practices on cosmetic plastic surgery, some focus on reconstructive surgery, and some (probably most) do both.

Cosmetic or aesthetic surgery involves procedures that improve appearance and/or restore the appearance.  Cosmetic surgery encompasses a vast array of procedures for the face and neck, breast, body, and extremities such as face lifts, tummy tucks, breast enhancement, and body contouring.   Real Plastic Surgeons are trained in cosmetic surgery as part of their extensive residency program.   The pioneers in Plastic Surgery developed most all of the cosmetic surgery procedures performed currently and these techniques are being further advanced by today’s generation of Plastic Surgeons.

Reconstructive surgery involves correcting deformities related to birth defects, trauma, cancer, etc.   The goal of reconstructive surgery is to restore the form and function of the body to achieve the best possible appearance and correction.  Plastic surgeons are trained to correct these defects and deformities by using highly specialized surgical techniques that require extensive training to learn.

A good example of reconstructive surgery is breast reconstruction for cancer.  Many times the entire breast must be removed by the cancer surgeon and the patient is left without a breast.  Plastic Surgeons are able to recreate a new breast for the patient “from scratch” by using their unequalled skill and knowledge.  No other type of doctor has this level of expertise in plastic surgery.

Cosmetic and reconstructive procedures often go hand in hand.  They both require an extensive knowledge of anatomy, physiology, tissue dynamics, surgical options, etc.   Thus, a plastic surgeon’s training is vast and highly integrated.  As a Plastic Surgeon, knowledge of all the goals and surgical techniques of cosmetic surgery enhances the results of reconstructive surgeries.  Likewise, the best outcomes with cosmetic surgery are enhanced by using principles and techniques of reconstructive surgery.


Plastic Surgeons:   A TRUE Plastic Surgeon has completed Training in an accredited residency program in plastic surgery, has Real board certification by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, has Unrestricted hospital admitting and operating room privileges in Plastic Surgery, and Expertise in cosmetic and reconstructive surgery of the entire body.  A TRUE Plastic Surgeon is the most extensively trained and qualified surgeon to perform both cosmetic and reconstructive procedures of the entire body.

Therefore, a TRUE Cosmetic Plastic Surgeon is a TRUE Plastic Surgeon who specializes in cosmetic plastic surgery.



COSMETIC SURGERY:  Cosmetic surgery, a.k.a. aesthetic surgery, is a branch or subdivision of plastic surgery.  Therefore, every TRUE Plastic Surgeon is trained to be a “cosmetic surgeon.”  On the other hand, not every “cosmetic surgeon” is a TRUE Plastic Surgeon.

Cosmetic Surgeons”:   Unbelievably, any physician with a license may refer to themselves as any type of doctor including a plastic surgeon, a cosmetic surgeon, or a cosmetic plastic surgeon and can attempt to perform these specialized cosmetic surgeries without completing any formal training such as a plastic surgery residency training program.  No law prevents this!

It is vitally important that the public understands this flaw in our system and educate themselves about their doctors.  This is especially crucial when considering cosmetic plastic surgery when the results are visible and potentially permanent.

As cosmetic surgery procedures are elective in nature, there is a misconception that they are easy to perform.   As a result, many inadequately trained practitioners are venturing into cosmetic surgery even though they have no formal training.

Many patients who are treated by minimally trained doctors get poor results and then seek the expertise of a TRUE Cosmetic Plastic Surgeon.   Sometimes, poor outcomes cannot be corrected.    Therefore, it is much better to have the procedure performed correctly the first time by a TRUE Cosmetic Plastic Surgeon skilled in cosmetic surgery.

Fortunately, many “cosmetic surgeons” are actually TRUE Plastic Surgeons who specialize in cosmetic plastic surgery procedures.  In the case of TRUE Plastic Surgeons, however, there is truly no need to make any distinction about being either a plastic surgeon or a “cosmetic surgeon” since a TRUE Plastic Surgeon automatically qualifies as a TRUE Cosmetic Plastic Surgeon.

The terminology and phrasing can be very confusing to the potential cosmetic surgery patient and advertisements can often be misleading.  One must be careful to discern whether they are dealing with a TRUE Cosmetic Plastic Surgeon or some other so-called “cosmetic surgeon” or “cosmetic doctor.”

A TRUE Cosmetic Plastic Surgeon is a TRUE Plastic Surgeon who specializes in cosmetic plastic surgery.

Some “cosmetic surgeons” have had basic training in a field such as dermatology with some type of additional training in some cosmetic surgery procedures.   Other “cosmetic surgeons” or “cosmetic doctors” have minimal if any training in any surgical specialty, let alone cosmetic surgery, yet are practicing as if they have.  Ironically, some of these types of “cosmetic surgeons and/or doctors” even claim that, since they only focus on cosmetic surgery and do not do reconstructive surgery, they are more qualified than a TRUE plastic surgeon.

This claim is truly laughable.  How could having less training in a broad specialty such as plastic surgery equate to being more qualified or capable in a subcategory of that specialty such as cosmetic surgery?   A TRUE Plastic Surgeon is fully trained in both cosmetic and reconstructive surgery while a “cosmetic surgeon” could be anyone with a medical license.

For comparison, consider this.  If you were remodeling your house would you hire a person who only knew how to do spackle and paint, or would you choose a master builder who could easily perform the cosmetic aspect of the remodel AND completely rebuild the house from the ground up?  Anyone who has been through a remodeling project will know that there are almost always unforeseen challenges that require a craftsman with a high level of expertise and experience to be able to adapt to the situation and achieve the desired result.  Likewise, cosmetic surgery requires knowledge of all available plastic surgery techniques including reconstructive principles in order to achieve the best possible outcomes.


The Bottom Line:  Only T.R.U.E. Plastic Surgeons are Trained in an accredited plastic surgery program, have Real plastic surgery board certification by the American Board f Plastic Surgery, have Unrestricted hospital admitting and operating room privileges in the specialty of plastic surgery, and Expertise in both cosmetic and reconstructive surgery  of the entire body.

A TRUE Cosmetic Plastic Surgeon is a TRUE Plastic Surgeon who specializes in cosmetic plastic surgery.

To avoid the confusion of the name game, consult with a TRUE Cosmetic Plastic Surgeon and be assured that you will receive the benefit of the most comprehensive training in the field of plastic surgery which includes both cosmetic and reconstructive surgery.