Plastic surgeon vs cosmetic surgeon

by | Aug 5, 2022

The terms plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery are often used interchangeably. As a result, most patients cannot easily tell one from the other. Things may get even more confusing when you learn that many plastic surgeons offer cosmetic procedures at their practice and that nearly any medical professional could refer to themselves as a cosmetic surgeon. In this article, we’ll try to establish the difference between cosmetic surgery and plastic surgery so you can choose the right professional for your unique needs.

What is plastic surgery?

Plastic surgery is essentially a specialty branch of medicine that focuses on reconstructing various areas of the body in order to restore function or improve appearance. Many patients choose to have plastic surgery procedures in order to alleviate traumas, burns, or the effects of diseases. Practitioners who offer plastic surgery need to have training in reconstructive techniques, along with cosmetic surgery training so they can also offer aesthetic procedures.
Some common examples of reconstructive surgery procedures include hand surgery, breast reconstruction, burn repair, lower extremity reconstruction, scar revision, and congenital defect repair. In addition to these, plastic surgeons are able to perform the majority of cosmetic procedures including the likes of breast augmentation, liposuction, tummy tuck, mommy makeovers, and facelift.

What is cosmetic surgery?

Cosmetic surgery basically refers to medical procedures that are performed in order to achieve aesthetic goals. Patients may be looking to enhance the appearance of a specific body area, improve symmetry, or achieve balance and proportionality. Cosmetic surgeons can operate on nearly any area of the body, including the face, breasts, arms, abdomen, back, skin, buttocks, and legs. It is important to note that any qualified medical professional (plastic surgeons and dermatologists included) who perform these procedures can rightly refer to themselves as cosmetic surgeons. Another key thing to keep in mind is that cosmetic procedures are typically considered to be elective in nature. This means that they are not usually covered by health insurers and thus the patients need to pay out of pocket.

Some of the most common examples of cosmetic surgeries include the following:

  • Facial cosmetic surgery – cosmetic procedures are usually performed on areas of the face in order to improve proportionality, balance, and appearance. Common facial procedures include eyelid surgery, nose reshaping, facelift surgery, brow lift, chin augmentation, cheek enhancement, blepharoplasty, and neck lift.
  • Breast procedures – surgeons may perform a variety of breast procedures in order to improve the size, volume, and projection of female breasts. Common procedures in this category include breast enhancement, breast lift, and breast reduction.
  • Body contouring – body contouring techniques focus on enhancing the appearance of various areas of the body. These procedures include liposuction, thigh lift, abdominoplasty, and Brazilian butt lift.
  • Skin rejuvenation – non-surgical skin rejuvenation includes the likes of dermal fillers, BOTOX, and laser skin resurfacing.

Plastic surgeons vs cosmetic surgeons

At this stage, you clearly understand the differences between plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery as a field. The differences between a cosmetic surgeon and a plastic surgeon can easily be summed up as follows:

  • Training – plastic surgeons need training in areas such as trauma surgery, hand surgery, disorders, congenital defect repair, reconstructive surgery, or cosmetic surgery in order to get their board certification. Cosmetic surgeons, on the other hand, need to be trained in aesthetic procedures such as liposuction, abdominoplasty, breast surgery, facial surgery, and other common aesthetic techniques.
  • Board certification – plastic surgeons are typically certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. Practitioners need to have significant experience (at least 6 – 8 years) and quality training within the US in order to attain this certification. Along with board certification, many plastic surgeons also choose to attain membership with the main industry association (the American Society of Plastic Surgeons). Cosmetic surgeons, on the other hand, are certified by the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery.
  • Scope – plastic surgeons are largely equipped to perform both reconstructive and cosmetic procedures. On the other hand, many cosmetic surgeons will only perform cosmetic treatments such as breast enhancement, liposuction, and skin rejuvenation.


When looking for the right surgeon to work with, make sure you pay attention to their board certification and training/educational background. You want to look at areas where they have training along with the kind of experience they have mastered over the years. This should give you a good starting point to shortlist professionals even before you start scheduling consultation visits.

* All information subject to change. Images may contain models. Individual results are not guaranteed and may vary.