It’s a good question, right? And one many have pondered on. Which is why Huffington Post featured a great article answering this very question by plastic surgeon, Dr. Mathew Plant.
The word Plastic in greek is plastikos, which is greek for “to mould”. It makes sense as plastic surgery involves manipulating and repositiong tissue to suit a specific purpose. This surgical speciality requires a minimum 5 year residency after completing medical school. For facial plastic surgery, Head and Neck Surgery, as well as facial plastic surgery is the main focus for at least 4 years of a 5 year residency. Facial plastic surgeons typically complete a fellowship in facial plastic surgery for at least 1 year following residency.
The first descriptions of plastic surgery date back to the 6th century in the area that is now known as India. Many of the procedures used in plastic surgery today were known as shushruta samhita. One example of shushruta samhita is a forehead flap, which Dr. Thompson performs often today. This procedure involves taking skin from the forehead and rotating it down to the nose to reconstruct areas such as the nostril. This procedure was performed often in the 6th century as well as many people had their noses cut off as punishment for various crimes. Today, Dr. Thompson performs forehead flaps following the removal of skin cancer or trauma.
The father of plastic surgery, Sir Harold Gilles, pioneered important techniques that include skin flaps and grafts where tissue is moved from one location to another. These techniques were vital to those injured during world war one who experiences massive traumatic defects. Overtime, these techniques were refined by Sir Gilles and his cousin Archibald McIndoe during the second world war where numerous soldiers again experienced devastating physical trauma requiring extensive repair techniques. Large facial wounds were often closed with tissue from arms and legs. Without such reconstructive techniques, individuals were left horribly disfigured and often lacked the basic functions we take for granted, such as eyelids that close and mouths that open. These are some of the reconstructive aspects of plastic surgery.
After realizing tissue could be manipulated to restore ones appearance following trauma, surgeons turned their attention to manipulating tissue on a “normal” appearing person to achieve a more “perfect” appearance. This was the birth of cosmetic (or aesthetic) surgery, which due to high cost of procedures, was only available tot he rich and famous. In the 1940’s and 50’s the most popular procedures were rhinoplasty and facelift surgeries. Overtime, procedures expanded to many parts of the body and continue to advance in technology and technique.
Dr. Plant closes by comparing plastic surgery to the trunk of a tree with cosmetic and reconstructive surgery simply being two separate branches of the tree. The full article on Huffington Post can be found HERE.