What's the difference between cosmetic and plastic surgery?

If you’re confused about the difference, don’t worry, you’re not alone. A lot of people are wondering the same question. Whats the difference between cosmetic and plastic surgeryI always thought they were the same.” 

In this article we’ll help clear the air and enlighten you on what makes plastic and cosmetic uniquely different.  

Why the confusion? 

Before we dive into things, lets briefly explain why the confusion exists. 

In the early 2000’s and with the advent of internet marketing, many surgical practices began advertising their services to the general public. Cosmetic procedures like breast augmentation, rhinoplasties, and liposuction were promoted in email, display ads, and flaunted on reality tv shows 

Plastic surgeons, who were thought of primarily as “reconstructive” surgeons, started marketing cosmetic procedures, blurring the line between cosmetic and plastic surgery. Cosmetic and plastic became interchangeable, and the public began perceiving the two as synonymous 

Even we were guilty of adding to the confusion. Our website, the “Plastic Surgery Before and After Database”contains images and content related to cosmetic surgery. But a more accurate name would be The Cosmetic Surgery Before and After Database.” 

Ok, got it, so what’s the difference? 

To put it simply, the difference between cosmetic surgery and plastic surgery comes down to this; cosmetic surgery is elective, plastic surgery is corrective.  

Plastic Surgery 

Plastic surgery corrects a part of the body or face that is in some way dysfunctional, or traumatized by injury, burn, birth defect or disease. Patients don’t “elect” to have plastic surgery per se. Instead, they’re compelled to have plastic surgery due to an event that physically traumatized them 

Plastic surgeons are often referred to as reconstructive surgeons. In 1999, the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons changed its name to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. They wanted to reinforce the understanding that plastic surgeons and reconstructive surgeons are the same 

Examples of Plastic surgery are: 

  1. Breast reconstruction 
  2. Burn repair  
  3. Congenital defect repair, like a cleft palate 
Cosmetic Surgery 

Cosmetic surgery, on the other hand, isn’t about fixing or reconstructing. It’s about enhancing. Cosmetic is elective, its chosen. Unlike plastic surgery, cosmetic procedure requires no underlying impairment to be corrected.  

Examples of Cosmetic surgery include: 

  1. Breast augmentation, lift or reduction 
  2. Rhinoplasty (nose job) 
  3. Facelift 
  4. Tummy tuck 
  5. Liposuction 

Plastic Surgeons vs Cosmetic Surgeons 

Board-Certified Plastic Surgeons complete a surgery residency and an additional two-year residency focused on plastic surgery. Surgery procedures that are cosmetic in nature are part of thprogram, but training doesn’t typically include all aspect of cosmetic surgery 

Plastic surgeons gain cosmetic surgery experience after residency trainingThere are currently no residency programs in the USA devoted to cosmetic surgery trainingHence, there is no official certification for “cosmetic surgery”.  

So, in reality, you could say there’s no such thing as a “cosmetic surgeon.” It would be more accurate to refer to them as plastic surgeons with a lot cosmetic surgery experience. 


Regardless of what we call them, if you want a cosmetic surgery procedure, make sure you look for a surgeon that’s been certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. You may be surprised to hear this, but any licensed physician can perform cosmetic surgery, even if they haven’t been trained in plastic surgery. You want the best possible results, so make sure your physician is certified.  

To verify if your physician is certified, look for the American Board of Plastic Surgery certification emblem on their website. You can also visit ABPS and do a surgeon lookup. There you can find if the physician is certified and in good standing. 

Oryou can also contact us below, and PSBAD will put you in touch will a well-qualified, certified surgeon in your area.

Is plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery the same? Now you know the answer, and you no longer have to be confused about the unique differences between the two. 

Michelle Workman

Michelle Workman

Michelle used to be a rocket scientist but she got bored with all the sciency stuff. So now she writes about more interesting things, like cosmetic surgery.

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