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Because plastic surgeons perform both reconstructive and cosmetic surgery, there is often confusion about what constitutes the procedures for each. The term “plastic surgery” is somewhat misleading since it suggests something false. But, the word plastic is used because it is derived from the Greek word plastikos, meaning to shape, and the Latin plasticus meaning that which may be molded or shaped.

 

Reconstructive and Cosmetic Plastic Surgery

Surgery considered reconstructive is performed on patients who have congenital disabilities such as cleft lip or cleft palate. Reconstructive surgery can also be done on women who have had a mastectomy or lumpectomy because of cancer.

In contrast, cosmetic surgery is the changing of a person’s anatomy strictly for aesthetic reasons. These surgical procedures provide no health benefits; instead, they are performed merely for improving a person’s appearance. Insurance companies consider such surgeries as only cosmetic. Examples of cosmetic surgery include facelifts, breast augmentation, breast lift, liposuction and abdominoplasty (often called a “tummy tuck”).

 

Overlapping of Reconstructive and Cosmetic Plastic Surgery

There are, however, instances in which reconstructive surgery can also be considered cosmetic. Under certain circumstances, such as when the goal is to improve a person’s well-being, it is necessary to achieve results that are both beneficial to health and aesthetically pleasing. For instance, rhinoplasty can be considered reconstructive when it is done to improve breathing or to repair damage from trauma. But, it also produces aesthetic results since in correcting problems with breathing, the surgeon often improves the nose’s appearance as he or she reconstructs it. 

As other examples, during wartime, numerous soldiers must have reconstructive surgery performed on them. If the face has been damaged, surgeons try to replicate the soldier’s original appearance. In doing so, they often improve the soldier’s looks by repairing a nose, or by making his or her face more symmetrical or younger-looking with skin grafts. 

While the final result for the surgeons is always to do their best to have optimal functioning of the body parts repaired, plastic surgeons also strive to give the repaired areas as pleasing an appearance as possible so that injury is undetected. Those surgeons who have been certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery will have completed the requisite training and expertise needed for safe surgery that ensures pleasing results.