I am often asked how “Plastic Surgery” came to be called “Plastic Surgery.” It’s a good question, especially because today we use products such as Botox, Juvaderm and Silicone breast implants – none of which contain plastic!
The English word plastic is derived from the Greek word plastikos, meaning to mold or shape. It actually has no association with the synthetic polymer that we call plastic! The phrase “Plastic Surgery” was coined by Carl Ferdinand Von Graefe, in Germany in 1818, and referred to surgeons who would reshape or mold tissues. Although this was the origin of the phrase “plastic surgery,” its beginnings may be traced back to 2000BC to physicians in India. During this time, the nose would often be cut off, either in war or as punishment for crimes. Surgeons actually began reconstructing the nose using a wax like substance and covering it with skin from the forehead or cheek.
The field expanded greatly during the 20th Century, in large part due to the injuries sustained during World Wars I and II. It was here that procedures involving burn and facial reconstruction evolved. Plastic Surgery continued to develop, and subspecialties within the field were born, including hand surgery, craniofacial surgery, microsurgery and reconstructive surgery.
Today, what most people refer to as plastic surgery (breast augmentation, abdominoplasty, face lift etc) is really a subspecialty, which is more frequently and more appropriately being referred to as Cosmetic Surgery. Specifically, this involves surgery or procedures which maintain, restore or enhance ones appearance.