If you’ve always thought cosmetic surgery and plastic surgery were one in the same, you can be forgiven. A significant number of plastic surgeons choose to focus their practice on cosmetic surgery, and, as such, the terms are often used interchangeably. While cosmetic surgery and plastic surgery are closely related specialties, this is not technically correct.

Plastic surgery is defined as a surgical specialty dedicated to reconstruction of facial and body defects due to birth disorders, trauma, burns, and disease. It is intended to correct dysfunctional areas of the body and is reconstructive in nature. While many plastic surgeons choose to complete additional training and perform cosmetic surgery as well, the basis of their surgical training remains reconstructive plastic surgery. In fact, in 1999, the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons changed its name to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons to more strongly communicate the message that “plastic and reconstructive surgeons are one in the same”.

Cosmetic surgery, however, is a branch of medicine where the procedures, techniques and principles are focused on enhancing the appearance. Improving aesthetic appeal, symmetry, and proportion are the key goals. Cosmetic surgery can be performed on all areas of the head, neck, and body. By definition, as the treated areas function properly, cosmetic surgery is elective. It is practised by doctors from a variety of medical fields, including plastic surgeons.

Reconstructive surgery is, in its broadest sense, the use of surgery to restore the form and function of the body; maxillofacial surgeons, plastic surgeons and otolaryngologists carry out reconstructive surgery on faces after trauma and to reconstruct the head and neck after cancer.