What is the difference between cosmetic surgery and plastic surgery?

The term cosmetic has traditionally been applied to the cosmeceutical industry. Cosmetics are another term for make up and used to enhance the appearance or fragrance of the body (as per Wikipedia). 

The widespread use of the term cosmetic followed by doctor, surgeon, and surgery are terms that mystify patients. Advertising and marketing strategies utilizing these terms do not offer patients any reassurances as to the training, accreditation and regulatory framework for the treatments these patients wish to consider. Patients assume that those offering cosmetic surgery have suitable training. Unfortunately there is no specific training for “cosmetic surgery” and patients should take no reassurance from the use of this terminology in finding a suitable “cosmetic surgeon”. 

Plastic surgery is a surgical specialty involving the restoration, reconstruction, or alteration of the human body. It includes cosmetic or aesthetic surgery, reconstructive surgery, craniofacial surgery, hand surgery, microsurgery, and the treatment of burns. (As per Wikipedia)

Plastic surgery techniques have also been incorporated within many different surgical disciplines including ENT / Maxillofacial  / Ocular and Breast Surgery.

Patients must understand that training, accreditation and a regulatory framework exists for plastic surgery. Many of these surgeons offer “cosmetic surgery” within this regulated framework.

Training / Accreditation and Regulatory Framework in Plastic Surgery.

After finishing medical school, trainee doctors will spend two years gaining experience in a variety of specialties in order to acquire full registration with the General Medical Council. After a minimum of two further years surgical training, the trainee can apply for a plastic surgery training programme.  If successful plastic surgery trainees will undergo a minimum of six years plastic surgery training. 

Plastic surgery trainees are required to pass the Intercollegiate Specialty Examination (FRCS Plast). Those who successfully complete the training programme gain their Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT), and are then eligible to be placed on the GMC specialist register for plastic surgery. 

The training in aesthetic surgery (or more commonly referred to as cosmetic surgery) is overseen by the Royal College of Surgeons and recommends that consultants certify within their areas of specialism. It is anticipated that these areas of specialism will also become visible to patients via the GMC specialist register.  Consultants are appraised on an annual basis and revalidated on a 5 yearly basis.

In plastic surgery the national organizations of British Association of Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS) and the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) only offer full membership to those who have completed their training and are on the GMC specialist registrar for plastic surgery. All members are voted in by their peers and offer the public a means of locating surgeons within suitable training in aesthetic surgery. 


Patient Empowerment


Patients are often mystified as to how to access a suitably trained and accredited “cosmetic” surgeon. The popular press regularly documents the unfortunate plights of patients who have received substandard care, some of which have been placed in jeopardy because of lack of training and improper practices.

Patients need to empower themselves to do their due diligence on the individual they choose to consult with.  For patients, locating suitably trained “cosmetic” surgeons is difficult. Social media may divert patients to those that advertise and market the term cosmetic. The public need to look for those trained in plastic surgery that are listed in the GMC specialist register for plastic surgery.


Reassurance to Patients consulting with Mr Ross for “cosmetic surgery”


Mr Ross is a plastic surgeon who underwent specific training in plastic surgery. Mr Ross successfully completed his FRCS(plast), obtained his CCT and is listed on the GMC specialist Register for Plastic surgery (Number 4220633). Mr Ross has a vast training in aesthetic surgery throughout his plastic surgery training including  the  techniques utilized in “cosmetic surgery”. Mr Ross is a full member of BAAPS and BAPRAS and is regularly appraised on an annual basis. He has successfully revalidated and “cosmetic surgery” is an established part of his scope of practice. 

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