What Is the Difference between Cosmetic Surgery and Plastic Surgery?

Cosmetic surgery and plastic surgery are often used interchangeably when referring to aesthetic enhancement procedures. An elective procedure, which focuses on enhancing a person's appearance, is referred to as cosmetic surgery. Examples of procedures considered to be cosmetic are Botox™, liposuction and breast augmentation. Unlike cosmetic surgery, plastic surgery aims to repair abnormal physical structures due to congenital defects, disease or trauma. Cleft lip correction and breast reconstruction are just a few medical procedures that are classified as plastic surgery.

While cosmetic surgery and plastic surgery are used to change a part of a person's physical appearance, each surgery has differing objectives. The main objective for performing plastic surgery is to improve bodily functions and restore normal appearance of the affected structures. Those suffering from a congenital abnormality called cleft lip often encounter problems with feeding, speech and socialization. After plastic surgery is performed to repair the cleft palate, functions such as feeding, speaking and appearance are restored.

A breast reconstruction procedure is another example of plastic surgery. After a mastectomy, breast reconstruction aims to restore the shape and volume of the original breast. Breast reconstruction, along with other types of plastic surgeries, is usually covered by many private medical insurers.


In contrast to plastic surgery, cosmetic surgery's main objective is to enhance the physical appearance of the patient. Unlike plastic surgery, cosmetic procedures are not medically necessary and, therefore, not covered by private insurers. Cosmetic outpatient procedures such as Botox™, dermal fillers and liposuction are usually performed to give the patient a more youthful and slimmer look. Cosmetic use of Botox™ entails injecting the protein into a problem area such as the forehead to help reduce the appearance of wrinkles. Botox™ is also used for medical conditions such as migraines, which may be covered by private medical insurance.

Currently, rhinoplasty, facelifts and breast augmentations are some of the more common in-patient cosmetic procedures. In most situations, rhinoplasty and facelifts serve only to create a more aesthetically-pleasing and youthful facial appearance. Unlike breast reconstruction, cosmetic breast augmentations are done for the sole purpose of enlarging the breasts.

Cosmetic surgery and plastic surgery are both very expensive. Out-of-pocket expenses for cosmetic surgery are generally much higher than plastic surgery, due to the unwillingness of most private medical insurers to cover medically-unnecessary procedures. Due to the high cost of cosmetic surgery, some patients may opt to apply for credit or set up a payment plan with the medical center. Complications resulting from both cosmetic surgery and plastic surgery may increase the total out-of-pocket cost for the patient.



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