What is Cosmetic Surgery?

Paulla Estes
Paulla Estes

Cosmetic surgery is usually performed to correct a physical abnormality or to enhance an otherwise normal physical feature and, therefore, improve a person's appearance. It's an extremely broad field that may offer reconstructive surgery for a patient after a damaging burn or other physical trauma, yet can also be used to smooth out wrinkles, enlarge breasts, or reshape a nose. In the not so distant past, it was confined only to surgery that was absolutely necessary to the health and well-being of the patient, such as skin-grafting for serious burns, reconstructing a dislodged eye, repairing a broken nose or jaw, or treating an unseemly birthmark across the face. Cosmetic surgery was first used regularly after World War I, when treatment and reconstruction of war injuries gave hope to young soldiers.

A cosmetic surgeon marking up a patient's face.
A cosmetic surgeon marking up a patient's face.

As recently as 50 years ago, as the rich and famous began opting for elective surgery, the subject was whispered about and considered taboo. Celebrities and others in elite circles would disappear for months and then emerge after secret cosmetic surgery looking younger, prettier, and thinner. Over time, it has become accepted and even encouraged in some circles. Today, there is open acceptance of such procedures to the point that there are even television reality shows about them. There are a wide range of variations, from tiny tucks and snips to full-blown face lifts.

A cosmetic surgeon.
A cosmetic surgeon.

Some of the more popular forms are liposuction, in which excessive fat is sucked out of the body with a tube and vacuum device; laser facial resurfacing, which smooths lines on the face around the eyes and mouth and eliminates facial blemishes; a facelift, which pulls back the skin around the face, jowls and neck; breast enlargement, which enhances the size of the breasts using implants; and hair replacement surgery, which fills in balding areas using a patient's own hair. There are many more forms, including variations of these.

Generally, cosmetic surgery is completed to improve a person's physical appearance.
Generally, cosmetic surgery is completed to improve a person's physical appearance.

Anyone interested in cosmetic surgery should consider the risks and remember that it is, ultimately, surgery. Not all procedures come out exactly the way surgeon and patients foresee, and recovery is just like any other surgery, complete with pain and the possibility of infection. Patients should choose their doctors wisely, obtain several references, and keep realistic expectations.

Cosmetic surgeries are often performed with a scalpel.
Cosmetic surgeries are often performed with a scalpel.
Certain types of surgery that concern the area around the eyes can be considered cosmetic.
Certain types of surgery that concern the area around the eyes can be considered cosmetic.
Laser cosmetic surgery can eliminate facial blemishes.
Laser cosmetic surgery can eliminate facial blemishes.
Paulla Estes
Paulla Estes

Paulla is a freelance writer and website editor who currently lives in Maine. Paulla has a B.A. in English Literature from George Mason University and over 15 years of experience as a freelancer. She relishes the flexibility and consistency of working on wiseGEEK articles, as well as the opportunity to constantly learn something new.

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Discussion Comments


Cosmetic surgery involves alteration to a person's part of a body or face to improve a person's appearance.

Plastic surgery involves a reconstruction of a person's body due to aging, weight gain or loss or even by their choice.


I was never one against cosmetic surgery, I just didn't think I'd need it. Aging took its toll on me. I found myself going to the NYC Salomon Surgery Center to straighten that up. I don't regret one bit I made this decision. If you're lucky enough to get an excellent doctor like I did, you don't end up regretting having a more youthful complexion, right?


I want to have a cosmetic surgery procedure for bigger lips. Has anyone had this surgery? Was it hard? Did you have any negative side effects? Is it expensive?


@anon29505-- I think the line between cosmetic and plastic surgery is still a little blurry.

The article mentioned that cosmetic surgery is to correct a physical abnormality as well as enhance feature. So that can include something like wrinkles which are a natural part of aging and putting a broken nose back in place which is not ordinarily that way.

And some reconstructive surgeries can probably be considered cosmetic or plastic surgery. To be honest, I'm still not sure about their distinction.


I am not against cosmetic surgery. I think it's great that people who have certain deformalities, whether natural or because of an injury have this option to fix it.

But I do get upset when very young people who have no physical problems whatsoever get cosmetic surgery simply due to envy or to be more attractive. It doesn't seem right to me. What do you guys think?


How can I get rid of old and deep stretch marks caused by pregnancy? These are basically 14 years old. Would appreciate your advice.


if i have stretch marks on my legs can i do plastic surgery?


1. is face change under cosmetic or plastic surgery?

2. what is the length of time recovery?


cosmetic surgery aims to change some part of the body that the person is not satisfied with. However, reconstructive type of surgery aims to correct the function of some organs.


What you have just described and defined is *plastic surgery.* Remember, when it involves problems like burns, deformed nose from trauma, ugly scars, etc. that requires reconstruction... it is called *plastic surgery.*

*Cosmetic surgery* involves enhancements on face, nose, or any part of the body that was not traumatized, or was not altered/deformed because of a disease(ie infections) or other causes. It is surgery for the body parts with changes brought by aging, or change in physical forms from gaining or losing weight, or simply when someone is not happy of what he or she has.

*Plastic surgery* should not go beyond the territory of *cosmetic surgery.* The line is clear. Only a lot of *plastic surgeons* want to have *cosmetic surgery* in their practice because they don't make much money when they do pathologic cases.

Now everybody understands...

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