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Cosmetic and Plastic Surgery: Which Is Right For Me?

Cosmetic and Plastic Surgery: Which Is Right For Me?

Many people use the terms “plastic surgery” and “cosmetic surgery” interchangeably. The confusion is understandable when taking into account how some plastic surgeons go through training to specialize in cosmetic surgery. However, while they are closely related, cosmetic and plastic surgery are not the same. The main differences lie in the ultimate goal of the procedure as well as how certification is obtained by practicing medical professionals.

What is Plastic Surgery?

Plastic surgery works to reconstruct body and facial defects that have been caused by a variety of events. These include trauma, burns, birth disorders, deformities, and disease. These procedures are meant to correct dysfunctional areas by reconstructing the damaged tissue so that it can function normally. Of course, surgeons take the patient’s appearance after the surgery into account. However, it is not the main concern.

Individuals who undergo plastic surgery typically require it; the surgeries are necessary, not optional. Procedures are commonly done during initial treatment. Although, some cases require multiple operations over time for more gradual improvement and healing. Due to the fact that plastic surgery is generally a requirement, insurance will often cover most, if not all, of the medical costs.

A few examples of plastic surgery procedures include:

  • Burn repair
  • Breast reconstruction after mastectomy
  • Scar revision
  • Lower extremity reconstruction
  • Skin grafts
  • Cleft palate correction
  • Carpal tunnel surgery
  • Congenital defect repair

There are several benefits of undergoing plastic surgery. Such operations are meant to restore damaged tissue so that it can heal while functioning and appearing as natural as possible. It can mask, or at the very least minimize, the visibility of injuries and scars. By restoring the body to its original condition, the patient also benefits emotionally from a boost in their self-esteem.

Because training is not focused strictly on aesthetic procedures, certification for plastic surgeons differs from that of cosmetic surgeons. Plastic surgeons are exposed to a wider variety of situations. So, in addition to the standard medical education, they must complete training in six main categories: reconstructive surgery, disorders, hand surgery, congenital defect repair, trauma surgery, and cosmetic surgery. In order to be certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS), surgeons must complete 150 cases and pass a board exam.

What is Cosmetic Surgery?

In contrast to plastic surgery, cosmetic procedures are elective with a solely aesthetic purpose. Rather than requiring the operation, a patient voluntarily goes under the knife to change something about their physical appearance. The goal of cosmetic surgery is to improve physical features that the individual is not happy with and that have likely caused them embarrassment or stress. Functionality is not the focus. Due to their elective nature, insurance generally doesn’t cover cosmetic procedures. The financial responsibility falls on the patient.

Although cosmetic surgery is popular with women, it is by no means exclusive to the female population. Anybody can undergo a cosmetic procedure, provided the patient’s physical and mental health meet certain criteria as outlined by the surgeon. These operations are not spur of the moment decisions. Rather, the patient has often been unhappy for some time with whatever part of their body they feel needs correcting, and they have decided to finally take steps to change it. Some of the more common operations hide signs of aging – for example, facelifts and liposuction.

Additional examples of cosmetic procedures include:

  • Tummy tucks
  • Rhinoplasty (nose jobs)
  • Breast augmentations
  • Arm, neck, and brow lifts
  • Hair restoration
  • Botox
  • Fillers
  • Implants
  • Cryolipolysis (CoolSculpting)
  • Tattoo removal

Much like plastic surgery, the physical and emotional benefits of cosmetic surgery can be quite profound, perhaps more so. Whereas plastic surgery corrects injuries and deformities, cosmetic procedures are not typically as drastic or invasive. Slight aesthetic enhancements can give a patient’s self-esteem quite a boost and help them feel more confident about themselves.

To acquire certification, cosmetic surgeons must meet different requirements than plastic surgeons. They have to complete residency training within a related field before they can move on to training for cosmetic surgery. This requirement is in place because of the shortage of residency programs specific to cosmetic surgery in the United States. Furthermore, practitioners have to complete 300 surgery cases – twice as many as the average plastic surgeon.

By these numbers, cosmetic surgeons should be more skilled at their work since they are more specialized and have undergone more training hours. However, a word of caution before selecting a cosmetic surgeon: any licensed physician can legally perform a cosmetic procedure. It does not matter where or how they received their training, and not every medical professional who performs cosmetic surgery is certified for the practice. This is why spas are allowed to perform liposuction and butt lifts and why you hear the occasional horror story of a botched surgery.

Given the price of cosmetic procedures, it can be tempting to go this route – but it can be a dangerous decision. It is highly recommended that patients do their research and look into the practitioner’s history, licensing, training, and track record before undergoing an operation.

The Final Question

So which is right for you – cosmetic surgeon or a plastic surgeon? It depends mostly on the end goal of the procedure.

For those requiring constructive surgery, the answer is simple. A plastic surgeon is the way to go. For cosmetic operations, however, the solution may not be so obvious. Focus more on the surgery rather than the title of the practitioner. Dig around and check credentials. Specifically, look into past experience regarding your procedure. If possible, read reviews and stories of patients who have gone to that practitioner to get an idea of how your own experience is likely to go.

Perhaps the most important piece of advice is to not focus too much on cost. Looking for a cosmetic surgeon is not the same as shopping for groceries. Hiring the one with the cheapest price tag could be troublesome at best, disastrous at worst. Surgery is expensive regardless of the procedure, so it is generally worth paying a premium for better results.

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