Learn the Differences between Cosmetic and Plastic Surgery

Plastic and cosmetic surgery

Training in plastic surgery involves a wide range of procedures to bring back the normal function and appearance of the body. Cosmetic surgery training, on the other hand, focuses mainly on more aesthetic procedures. However, most plastic surgeons also offer or perform cosmetic procedures as part of their practice. Now, this might leave you wondering […]


Training in plastic surgery involves a wide range of procedures to bring back the normal function and appearance of the body. Cosmetic surgery training, on the other hand, focuses mainly on more aesthetic procedures.

However, most plastic surgeons also offer or perform cosmetic procedures as part of their practice. Now, this might leave you wondering and confused. How do plastic surgical procedures differ from cosmetic surgical procedures?

All surgeons undergo various training and although there are many well-trained and skilled plastic and cosmetic surgeons, knowing the main differences between them will help you better understand the experiences and credentials of each surgeon.

Cosmetic Surgery at a Glance

Cosmetic surgery involves surgical procedures meant to improve appearance. These can include improving symmetry, augmenting some features, or adjusting the proportions of the body or face. 

Cosmetic procedures are elective, which means that patients choose to undergo procedures on different parts of the body that don’t need any improvement in function. A cosmetic surgeon has undergone training in aesthetic principles. In particular, facial cosmetic surgeons specialize in aesthetic procedures for the face, neck, and head. 

Although basic surgical training can be acquired during residency, cosmetic surgery specialty is often learned through hands-on experience after residency. 

Cosmetic surgery improves the aestetic appearance.
Patients choose procedures because of aesthetic principles. Facial cosmetic surgeons specialize in procedures for the face, neck, and head.

Plastic Surgery at a Glance

Plastic surgery is a broad category of different procedures including both reconstructive surgery and cosmetic surgery. 

The reconstructive procedures are done to restore the function and appearance of the body after an illness, congenital problem, or injury. Residency training in plastic surgeries involves several required reconstructive and plastic surgeries, and part of these are cosmetic principles and procedures. Training in plastic surgeries is often received and acquired during medical residency. 

Plastic vs. Cosmetic Surgery Differences

There are several distinct differences between plastic and cosmetic surgery, and some of these are the following:

Specialization

Aesthetic procedures are the main specialization of board-certified cosmetic surgeons. On the other hand, board-certified plastic surgeons may choose to study an extensive variety of surgeries. 

A board-certified cosmetic surgeon either trains in a post-residency fellowship for one to two years that focuses mainly on cosmetic procedures or demonstrates the same level of rigor through experience in their practice. 

Before they are eligible to take the board exam, a surgeon must conduct a minimal number of common cosmetic procedures to show that they specialize in the essential procedures. 

On the other hand, training in plastic surgeries during medical residency includes reconstructive procedures to enhance function and restore natural appearance after a congenital disorder, illness, or injury. 

Plastic surgery restores the function  and appearance of the body.
Breast reconstruction following cancer is a core procedure in the training of a plastic surgeon. 

While this training addresses cosmetic procedures, these are not the main focus. The aesthetic training is just one out of the twelve categories of the procedures that are part of the training requirements to be board-certified, including surgery of the hand, craniomaxillofacial trauma surgery, and burn reconstruction. 

Although there are plastic surgeons who may pursue their post-residency fellowships to become specialized in cosmetic training, it is not required to have additional training to acquire board certification. 

Board Certifications

Training in plastic and reconstructive surgery is usually acquired during medical residency. After their residency, surgeons provide evidence of their necessary clinical experience so that they will be certified by the board. 

There are two steps required for a plastic surgeon to be board-certified, and these are attending medical school and plastic and reconstructive surgery residency training.

The cosmetic training can be acquired during a post-residency fellowship. A general cosmetic surgeon may hold a certification from the respective board, and so does a surgeon who specializes in facial cosmetic surgery that certifies the cosmetic surgeons whose specialty involves cosmetic procedures of the face, neck, and head.  

Cosmetic surgery improves a person's appearance and self-confidence.
Cosmetic surgery includes procedures like breast augmentation, liposuction, tummy tuck, body lift and contouring.

All cosmetic surgeons who are certified by the board are also required to have a primary board certification in a different surgical specialty. 

Board certification for cosmetic surgery involves surgical training that will be followed by documented and extensive cosmetic surgery experience. A surgeon can take either of the two routes to acquire a board certification as a cosmetic surgeon. 

The first route may start with attending medical school, undergoing residency, getting primary board certification in the area of residency, extensive experience in facial cosmetic surgery or cosmetic surgery fellowship training, and successful passing of the board certification exam. 

In addition, maxillofacial and oral surgeons may also acquire board certification as facial cosmetic surgeons by taking the route below:

  • Dual degree or single degree (DMD or DDS)
  • Completion of residency in accredited maxillofacial and oral surgery
  • Board certification
  • Extensive facial cosmetic surgery experience or cosmetic surgery fellowship training
  • Successful passing of the board certification exam

Surgical Tools and Techniques 

Plastic surgeons use techniques for restoring the function and appearance of the body that are usually similar to those used by cosmetic surgeons to improve the appearance of the body. 

A cosmetic breast augmentation, for example, is an in-demand procedure that shares some similarities with the procedure of breast reconstruction following cancer, which is a core procedure in the training of a plastic surgeon. 

Insurance Coverage 

While reconstructive plastic surgeries might be considered medically necessary, cosmetic surgery is almost often elective. This means that the patient decides to undergo the procedure although this is not often considered critical by insurance companies for the health of the patient. 

Plastic surgeons restore the function and appearance of the body. Cosmetic surgeons improve the appearance of the body.

Choose the Right Surgeon for Your Needs

Your surgeon is always the first and most important choice you need to make as far as cosmetic surgery procedures are concerned. 

A licensed physician with a certain specialty might legally carry out cosmetic procedures, which makes it imperative that you always do your own homework and work with a surgeon who does not only specialize in the procedure you need but is also equipped with the necessary credentials. 

When you need a procedure that is more cosmetic in nature, looking for a cosmetic surgeon will mean that the focus of the surgeon is on making sure that you will achieve a sound and safe aesthetic result. Make the right choice for better peace of mind.

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