Plastic Surgery vs. Cosmetic Surgery: What is the difference?

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Difference between Plastic Surgery and Cosmetic Surgery

Plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery are so common nowadays that many people often confuse the two. Both essentially involve improving the appearance through surgical means of course, although there are clear differences between them. In this comparison article, we take a look at what those differences are.

Plastic Surgery
Cosmetic Surgery


Plastic surgery is a surgical procedure that is often elective, but may also have a medical basis. The purpose of plastic surgery is often to improve a damaged or abnormal body part. Most people who undergo plastic surgery do so after suffering damage due to trauma or a disease in which a part of the body becomes abnormal and functionality is impaired. One common example is when facial bones are broken in a car accident. In this case, plastic surgery is undertaken as a means to repair facial structure, so that both appearance and functionality is restored. While appearance is often an important concern when undertaking plastic surgery, most surgeons will focus on restoring functionality first and foremost.

Cosmetic surgery is only one type of plastic surgery, and it is often elective. The goal is also to make improvements to a certain part of the body, although it is most commonly done at the request of the patient, as opposed to out of a specific medical concern. Among the most common types of cosmetic surgery are liposuction, breast enhancement (or reduction) surgery, nose reshaping or rhinoplasty, abdominal reshaping, and possibly the most common of all types of cosmetic surgery, the facelift. All of these procedures are done mainly to improve one’s appearance.


Plastic surgery is the umbrella category under which falls all types of surgery in which the purpose is to change or improve the appearance. Under this broad category are cosmetic surgery and reconstructive surgery. In cosmetic surgery, a body part that is otherwise normal is improved via surgical means. Someone who looks his age for example, may undergo cosmetic surgery a means to look younger.

In reconstructive surgery on the other hand, a body part that has a less than normal appearance is change in order to make it look more normal. Among the most common conditions that require reconstructive surgery are a cleft lip or a broken nose resulting from an accident. In the case of such a broken nose, the goal isn't to change the appearance of an otherwise normal body part, but to restore its appearance to its normal state before it was broken.

The Dividing Line

As you can see, the main difference between both types of surgery–reconstructive surgery and cosmetic surgery–is the reason for the procedure. However, the line blurs in cases such as breast cancer, wherein surgery is undertaken to improve the appearance of breasts that have been deformed as result of surgery to remove a tumor.

Similarities and Differences

Plastic surgery

  • A surgical procedure that aims to improve the appearance of a body part damaged by trauma or disease
  • May either be reconstructive surgery or cosmetic surgery

Cosmetic surgery

  • Done almost solely for cosmetic purposes
  • May also be done to restore the appearance of a body part deformed after a surgical procedure

Which type of surgery has better doctors?
  • Plastic Surgery
  • Cosmetic Surgery

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