Cosmetic Surgery vs. Plastic Surgery

What's the Difference?

Cosmetic surgery and plastic surgery are often used interchangeably, but they are actually two distinct branches of medical procedures. Cosmetic surgery focuses on enhancing a person's appearance by improving aesthetic features, such as the shape of the nose or the size of the breasts. It is primarily elective and aims to boost self-confidence and satisfaction with one's appearance. On the other hand, plastic surgery encompasses a broader scope, including reconstructive procedures to restore function and form after accidents, injuries, or medical conditions. Plastic surgery can involve repairing birth defects, reconstructing damaged body parts, or even performing hand surgeries. While both cosmetic and plastic surgeries aim to improve physical appearance, plastic surgery has a more comprehensive approach, addressing both aesthetic and functional concerns.


AttributeCosmetic SurgeryPlastic Surgery
DefinitionMedical procedures performed to enhance appearanceMedical procedures performed to reconstruct or repair body defects
FocusPrimarily on aesthetic improvementsPrimarily on functional and reconstructive improvements
GoalsEnhance physical appearance, improve self-esteemRestore function, correct abnormalities, improve quality of life
Types of ProceduresRhinoplasty, breast augmentation, liposuction, facelift, etc.Breast reconstruction, cleft lip repair, burn repair, hand surgery, etc.
Medical NecessityGenerally elective, not medically necessaryCan be elective or medically necessary
Insurance CoverageUsually not covered by insuranceMay be covered by insurance if medically necessary
Surgeon SpecializationCosmetic surgeonsPlastic surgeons
TrainingSpecialized training in cosmetic proceduresExtensive training in reconstructive and cosmetic procedures
RisksPossible complications, scarring, dissatisfaction with resultsPossible complications, infection, scarring, implant issues

Further Detail


Cosmetic surgery and plastic surgery are often used interchangeably, leading to confusion among many people. While both fields aim to enhance a person's appearance, they have distinct differences in terms of their goals, procedures, and training requirements. In this article, we will delve into the attributes of cosmetic surgery and plastic surgery, shedding light on their unique characteristics.

Cosmetic Surgery

Cosmetic surgery primarily focuses on enhancing a person's aesthetic appearance. It aims to improve symmetry, proportion, and overall physical appearance through surgical procedures. Common cosmetic surgeries include breast augmentation, rhinoplasty (nose job), liposuction, facelifts, and tummy tucks.

One of the key attributes of cosmetic surgery is that it is elective and performed on individuals who are generally healthy. It is a personal choice made by individuals who wish to enhance their appearance and boost their self-confidence. Cosmetic surgery can address various concerns, such as signs of aging, body contouring, and facial rejuvenation.

Cosmetic surgeons undergo specialized training and acquire skills specific to aesthetic procedures. They focus on the artistry of surgery, aiming to achieve natural-looking results that align with the patient's desires. These surgeons work closely with patients to understand their goals and develop personalized treatment plans.

It is important to note that cosmetic surgery is not covered by insurance unless it is performed for reconstructive purposes, such as breast reconstruction after mastectomy. Patients typically bear the full cost of cosmetic procedures, making it a financial investment.

Plastic Surgery

Plastic surgery, on the other hand, encompasses both reconstructive and cosmetic procedures. While cosmetic surgery is a subset of plastic surgery, plastic surgeons have a broader scope of practice. They are trained to address not only aesthetic concerns but also reconstructive needs resulting from congenital conditions, trauma, or disease.

Reconstructive plastic surgery aims to restore function and improve appearance in patients with physical abnormalities. It includes procedures such as cleft palate repair, scar revision, hand surgery, and breast reconstruction. Plastic surgeons work closely with patients to understand their unique circumstances and develop comprehensive treatment plans.

Unlike cosmetic surgery, reconstructive plastic surgery is often covered by insurance, as it is considered medically necessary. This coverage helps patients access the care they need without incurring significant financial burdens.

Plastic surgeons undergo extensive training, which includes both cosmetic and reconstructive procedures. They complete a residency program that covers various aspects of surgery, including general surgery, trauma, and plastic surgery. This comprehensive training equips plastic surgeons with the skills to handle a wide range of cases.

It is worth mentioning that some plastic surgeons choose to focus primarily on cosmetic procedures, similar to cosmetic surgeons. However, their training allows them to handle complex reconstructive cases as well.

Key Differences

While cosmetic surgery and plastic surgery share the goal of enhancing appearance, there are several key differences between the two:

  • Cosmetic surgery is elective, while plastic surgery can be both elective and reconstructive.
  • Cosmetic surgery focuses solely on aesthetic improvements, while plastic surgery addresses both aesthetic and functional concerns.
  • Cosmetic surgeons specialize in aesthetic procedures, while plastic surgeons have a broader scope of practice.
  • Cosmetic surgery is generally not covered by insurance, while reconstructive plastic surgery may be covered.
  • Cosmetic surgery is performed on healthy individuals, while plastic surgery can be performed on individuals with physical abnormalities or medical conditions.


Understanding the differences between cosmetic surgery and plastic surgery is crucial for individuals considering these procedures. While both fields aim to enhance appearance, they have distinct goals, procedures, and training requirements. Cosmetic surgery focuses on aesthetic improvements and is elective, while plastic surgery encompasses both aesthetic and reconstructive procedures. By consulting with qualified surgeons and discussing individual goals, patients can make informed decisions about the most suitable approach to achieve their desired results.

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