Cosmetic, Plastic, or Reconstructive Surgery?

I often field questions from curious patients at my Chicago cosmetic surgery practice. Popular topics range from skincare products to the subtleties in my job title. Have you ever wondered if there’s a difference between cosmetic, plastic, and reconstructive surgery? Or what a doctor means when he calls a procedure “minimally invasive”? Understanding these terms can help you make sound decisions for your lifestyle and your health.

Cosmetic surgery is a general, non-technical term for any kind of surgery performed to enhance a patient’s looks. These can run the gamut from lip implants to breast augmentation to dental veneers, and a cosmetic surgery procedure can legally be performed by anybody with a medical license. I recommend that anybody considering a cosmetic procedure choose a board-certified plastic surgeon to ensure they achieve their desired results safely.

Reconstructive surgery is a term that denotes any kind of surgery done to reconstruct an area of the body that has been damaged or removed due to disease or injury. Reconstructive surgeries, such as breast reconstruction, are often done for aesthetic purposes. Other surgeries that are performed to restore a patient’s health or mobility, such as hip replacement, are also technically considered reconstructive, although most people associate the term with reconstructive aesthetic procedures.

Plastic surgery is a technical term that encompasses both cosmetic and reconstructive surgery. Plastic surgery is a specialty that can be pursued in medical school, and board-certified plastic surgeons are often the people who are most qualified to perform aesthetic procedures. Though most people associate plastic surgery with cosmetic procedures, the field includes many types of reconstructive surgery, including hand surgery and burn treatments.

How about procedures? You’ve probably heard the terms surgical, non-surgical, non-invasive, and minimally invasive. But how do they differ from one another?

Surgical procedures are those that require anesthesia (general or local) and generally focus more on the internal structures of the body than the external features. In the cosmetic enhancement field, procedures such as liposuction and facelift are surgical.

Non-surgical can mean any treatment that doesn’t require surgery. Some common non-surgical cosmetic treatments include BOTOX® Cosmetic and microdermabrasion.

Minimally invasive means that a procedure requires breaking the skin, but cannot be considered surgery. Cosmetic injectables, including dermal fillers and BOTOX, are minimally invasive.

Non-invasive procedures indicate a procedure that doesn’t require breaking the skin. All non-invasive procedures are non-surgical, but only some non-surgical procedures are non-invasive. For example, BOTOX Cosmetic is non-surgical, but it is not non-invasive, because it requires an injection. However, microdermabrasion is both non-surgical and non-invasive.

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