Why Is It Called Plastic Surgery: Definition, Origins, and More

When most people think of plastic surgery, the first thing that comes to mind is celebrities going under the knife to get a nose job or a chin implant. However, what many people don’t know is that plastic surgery is much more than just a way for people to change their appearance.

It can be used to treat medical conditions, improve body function, and help patients feel better about themselves. Why is it called plastic surgery, and what’s the history behind this industry?

Learn in This Article

  • What Is Plastic Surgery
  • History of Plastic Surgery
  • Types of Plastic Surgery Procedures
  • How Does Plastic Surgery Work
  • Why Do People Get Plastic Surgery
  • Key Takeaways

What Is Plastic Surgery

In short, plastic surgery is a medical specialty that involves the correction or restoration of form and function. It can be divided into two main categories: reconstructive surgery and cosmetic surgery.

Reconstructive surgery is most commonly known as plastic surgery for medical reasons. In fact, this surgery aims to correct functional impairments caused by burns, trauma, congenital abnormalities, developmental abnormalities, infection, tumors, or disease.

On the other hand, cosmetic surgery is performed to reshape some parts of the body to improve the patient’s appearance and self-esteem. Overall, plastic surgery is an ever-evolving field that offers patients new ways to achieve their desired looks.

History of Plastic Surgery: A Brief Overview

While this industry has evolved over time to become a separate field, the origin of plastic surgery can be dated back to 800 BC. At the time, physicians in Ancient India were the first that could successfully repair facial imperfections with skin grafts.

This practice was slowly introduced to the West. As medicine started to progress during the Greco-Roman era, reconstructive surgery was soon refined and adapted to the new discoveries. The term “plastic surgery” came from the Greek word “plastikos,” which means to mold or shape.

New techniques and technologies have been developed, allowing plastic surgeons to provide their patients with improved results. Today, plastic surgery is used to correct a wide variety of imperfections, both cosmetic and functional. Thanks to the continued progress in this field, millions of people around the world have been able to improve their appearance and quality of life.

Types of Plastic Surgery Procedures

When it comes to plastic surgery, plenty of invasive or minimally invasive procedures can be used for cosmetic or medical reasons.

Facial Surgery

Simply put, facial surgery deals with the correction or restoration of facial features. Although many people use this surgery for cosmetic reasons, some others correct birth imperfections or repair damage from injury.

Nose reshaping, or rhinoplasty, is the most common plastic surgery procedure. Facelift, blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery), and otoplasty (ear surgery) come right behind in terms of popularity.

Breast Surgery

Breast surgery is a term that covers a wide range of procedures. Many women aim to achieve a more aesthetically pleasing shape of their breasts, including enlargement or reduction procedures. In some cases, the reasons for getting breast surgery may also include removing tumors.


As the name suggests, liposuction uses suction to remove fat from the body through a small incision in the skin. Generally, it’s used to target specific areas of fat deposits, such as the abdomen, thighs, or arms. Liposuction can be performed under local or general anesthesia, depending on the extent of the surgery.

Botox Injections

Botox injections are a popular cosmetic procedure that can reduce the appearance of wrinkles. The active ingredient in Botox is botulinum toxin, produced by the bacterium clostridium botulinum.

When injected into the skin, Botox works by temporarily paralyzing the muscles that cause wrinkles. In addition to its cosmetic uses, Botox has also been shown to be effective in treating chronic migraines, excessive sweating, and muscle spasms.

Laser Treatments

Laser treatments encompass a variety of procedures, including hair removal, skin resurfacing, and LASIK eye surgery

But how do they work? Lasers emit short pulses of intense light absorbed by the target tissue. The light energy is then converted to heat, which destroys the target tissue. For example, in laser hair removal, the pigment in the hair follicles absorbs light energy. This way, the follicles are heated and destroyed, preventing future hair growth.

How Does Plastic Surgery Work

The first step is usually a consultation with a plastic surgeon, during which the doctor will assess the patient’s needs and goals. The surgeon will then develop an individualized treatment plan. Generally, the actual surgery is performed under general anesthesia and usually takes from one to six hours.

Although it’s typically safe, plastic surgery can have side effects. Excessive bleeding, infections, blood clots, and an unexpected reaction to anesthesia are among the most common complications. In the worst-case scenario, these complications can be life-threatening.

Why Do People Get Plastic Surgery

People opt for plastic surgery for a variety of reasons. Some people have congenital imperfections they want to correct with surgery. Others may be unhappy with how they look due to aging, weight gain, or pregnancy. Some use plastic surgery to stay competitive in the workplace and advance their careers.

Regardless of the reason, it’s extremely important to consult a surgeon before getting plastic surgery. This way, you can understand the benefits and risks.

Key Takeaways

  • Plastic surgery involves both reconstructive and cosmetic surgery.
  • In 800 BC, Ancient India was the first civilization to introduce plastic surgery.
  • The word “plastic” comes from the Greek word “plastikos,” which means molding or shaping.
  • Most plastic surgery procedures are performed under general anesthesia and take one to six hours.
  • As with any type of surgery, there are risks involved in plastic surgery. The most common complications include infection, bleeding, and scarring.
  • People opt for plastic surgery for various reasons, including congenital imperfections, aging, weight gain, and career advancement.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who invented plastic surgery?

Sushruta is arguably the father of plastic surgery, a man who lived in India sometime between 800 and 1,000 BC. Considering the historical setting, Sushruta brought considerable advancement and innovation.
In the modern world, the man credited with inventing plastic surgery is Sir Harold Gillies. This surgeon developed new techniques for treating facial injuries during World War I. His work laid the foundation for modern plastic surgery, and his innovations are still used by surgeons today. Thanks to Gillies and other pioneers in the field, plastic surgery has become an invaluable tool for restoring patients to their former appearance and functioning.

How many surgeries can a person have in a lifetime?

There is no definitive answer to this question as it depends on a variety of factors, including the individual’s health and the type of surgery. Generally speaking, most people can safely undergo multiple surgeries throughout their lifetime.

How old do you have to be to get plastic surgery?

Anyone considering plastic surgery should be of sound mind and body and be able to make informed decisions. In general, patients must be at least 18 years old to undergo elective surgery. 
However, the US doesn’t set a minimum age for plastic surgery. Teenagers under 18 can get cosmetic surgery with parental consent.

How common is plastic surgery?

Plastic surgery is becoming increasingly common, with both men and women undergoing procedures to improve their appearance. 
According to a recent study, the number of cosmetic procedures in the US surpassed 4.6 million in 2020. Many factors are driving this trend, including the growing acceptance of plastic surgery, the availability of financing options, and ever-improving surgical techniques. With such a high demand for surgical procedures, it’s no wonder that the plastic surgery industry is booming.

Why does plastic surgery have the word plastic in it?

Many people have been asking the question, “why is it called plastic surgery.” Especially if you’re unfamiliar with the terminology, it’s not uncommon to feel confused. In fact, implants contain silicone. Even though silicone is often associated with plastic, this material is a type of rubber.
Despite the debate on whether silicone is plastic or not, the terminology is not about the materials used. As mentioned earlier, the word “plastic surgery” derives from the Greek “plastikos,” which translates to molding or shaping. This is an appropriate name for a surgical procedure that involves reshaping the human body.