Plastic surgery includes both elective (nonessential) cosmetic procedures, which are performed to enhance the appearance of normal body structures, and reconstructive procedures, which are performed to improve the function and appearance of abnormal, injured, or diseased body structures. Plastic surgeons operate on a wide variety of parts of the body, including the skin, musculoskeletal system, face, hand, feet, breast, torso, and genitalia. All plastic surgeries, whether primarily cosmetic or reconstructive, draw on cosmetic techniques to achieve the most attractive results possible. Plastic surgeons are experts in grafting skin, caring for complicated wounds, using implants, removing tumors, and performing delicate surgeries involving tiny veins and the structures of the face.
Common Reconstructive Procedures
- Breast reconstruction. This procedure is designed to recreate the appearance of the breast after mastectomy.
- Breast reduction. Excess fat and tissue may be removed to alleviate the stress on the body caused by disproportionately large breasts. Men may also undergo breast reduction surgery.
- Cleft lip and cleft palate repair. Cleft lip and cleft palate are relatively common birth defects involving a separation in the upper lip and the roof of the mouth. Plastic surgeons can close these gaps, allowing the child to eat, speak, and breathe more normally and creating a more normal appearance.
- Wound care and scar revision. Plastic surgeons care for people who have been seriously burned or cut. They may use skin grafts or other reconstructive procedures.
- Skin cancer. The surgeon will remove cancerous lesions on the skin while preserving the patient's appearance.
- Tissue expansion. This procedure encourages the body to grow extra skin that may be used for reconstructing other parts of the body. The technique involves inserting a silicone balloon under the skin and gradually expanding it, so that the skin will stretch and grow.
- Hand and foot surgeries. Plastic surgeons may operate on tumors of the hands, extra digits, and webbed fingers or toes. Other frequent procedures include treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis.
Common Cosmetic Procedures
Cosmetic surgery is becoming increasingly popular, and there are a wide variety of procedures available to help patients look younger and fitter. Among the most popular procedures are breast enlargements, tummy tucks, liposuction, body contouring following weight loss, arm lifts, and thigh lifts. Neck lifts, forehead lifts, face lifts, and eyelid surgery may offer a more youthful appearance. The nose, ears, and chin may also be operated on. More minimally invasive procedures include chemical peels and microdermabrasion, collagen injections to smooth away fine wrinkles, Botox, and laser hair removal.
What types of training and credentials should plastic surgeons have?
Following four years of medical school, plastic surgeons should complete at least five years of surgical training. At least two of those years should focus exclusively on plastic surgery. Plastic surgeons may first complete a residency in another surgical field and then train for several years in plastic surgery, or they may enter a six-year plastic surgery residency after graduating from medical school. You should choose a plastic surgeon who is experienced in the procedure you are interested in and has been board-certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgeons.