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Overview of Plastic Surgery

What is plastic surgery?

Plastic surgery is a surgical specialty. It can be used to improve how someone looks and to reconstruct facial and body tissue defects. These issues may be caused by illness, injury (trauma), or birth disorders.

Plastic surgery restores and improves function, as well as appearance. It can include surgery on any part of the anatomy except the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). Plastic surgery may be done to:

  • Address skin issues, including skin cancer, scars, burns, birthmarks, and tattoo removal

  • Reshape facial bones

  • Fix a condition a baby was born with (congenital malformation), such as an abnormally shaped outer ear, cleft palate, and cleft lip

Healthcare providers who do plastic surgery

It's important to choose a healthcare provider who is certified in plastic surgery by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. Generally, a surgeon who is board-certified in plastic surgery has graduated from an accredited medical school. They complete at least 6 years of graduate surgical education. This often includes 3 years of general surgery and 3 years of plastic surgery. In addition, the surgeon must pass comprehensive written and oral exams to become board-certified. Board certification is renewed every 10 years. This ensures ongoing competency in the specialty.

What does plastic surgery include?

Plastic surgery includes both reconstructive and cosmetic procedures:

Reconstructive plastic surgery

In general, reconstructive surgery is done on abnormal structures of the body that may be caused by:

  • Injury

  • Infection

  • Developmental abnormalities

  • Congenital (present at birth) anomalies

  • Disease

  • Tumors

This type of surgery is often done to improve function. It may also be done to change how someone looks.

Cosmetic plastic surgery

Cosmetic surgery is done to fix or reshape otherwise normal structures of the body. It's generally done to improve how someone looks.

Online Medical Reviewer: David Lickstein MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ronald Karlin MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Tara Novick BSN MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2023
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