The Real Difference Between Reconstructive And Cosmetic Surgery

The field of plastic surgery is large and the options offered can be confusing. It helps to divide it into its two main categories: reconstructive surgery and cosmetic surgery. Reconstructive surgery is used to restore normal form and function to something that has been damaged — like reforming breasts after a mastectomy, correcting a cleft lip, or treating severe burn scars (via American Society of Plastic Surgeons). Reconstructive surgeries are usually considered to be medically necessary, and are covered by many insurance plans.

Cosmetic surgery, on the other hand, is focused strictly on enhancing physical appearance, according to the desires of the individual, without any medical necessity at play. These are usually not covered by insurance policies. Dr. Lara Devgan, chief medical officer at RealSelf – a site where people can learn about cosmetic procedures, discuss experiences, and connect with providers — says, "Most patients seek [cosmetic] procedures to feel like the best version of themselves. There's a magical paradox I'm helping people achieve: looking the same but better" (via Healthline).

The number of cosmetic surgeries performed each year continues to grow

Of the 15.6 million cosmetic surgical procedures performed in 2020 (compared to 6.8 million reconstructive surgeries), nose reshaping was performed most frequently, followed by eyelid surgery, facelifts, liposuction, and breast augmentation (via American Society of Plastic Surgeons). And as procedures have become safer and more affordable, as well as more socially acceptable, the numbers are on the rise. Dr. Alan Matarasso, president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), notes, "While we may not be curing cancer, the impact and psychological benefit [of some cosmetic treatments] can be profound" (via Healthline).

For those considering cosmetic surgery, finding a board-certified plastic or cosmetic surgeon is critical to ensuring access to all your options. In the U.S., regulations defining what kind of physician can call themselves a cosmetic surgeon are surprisingly lax, and they include doctors who offer only a very limited number of cosmetic procedures, such as, for example, an oral surgeon or dermatologist (via Healthline). Dr. Rod J. Rohrich, a physician at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, tells Healthlin, "[It's] quite amazing and astounding as we don't have any regulations on who can call themselves what in the USA."