The History of Plastic Surgery

If you had to wager a guess as to when plastic surgery began, chances are you’d guess much later than reality.

In fact, the history of plastic surgery goes all the way back to 800 B.C. when physicians in ancient India were using skin grafts for reconstructive surgery.

It’s hard to imagine what that entailed exactly. It’s probably safe to say that the procedure would not have been considered hygienic by today’s standards.

Whatever the case, the practice of plastic surgery continued to grow from its roots in early Eastern medicine practices into what it is today.


The History of Plastic Surgery

The field hardly took off after those early days in India. Advances were admittedly slow in coming.

There were a number of Asian healers who used certain techniques that looked something like modern rhinoplasty to improve upon the shape of noses of royal family members. Over the next few centuries though, the techniques used in India and central Asia were introduced to European countries.


The Greco-Roman Period

The Greco-Roman Period was between 332BC -395 AD. It marked the end of Persian rule over Egypt. It also marked some of the biggest advancements in medicine.

Roman medical writer Aulus Cornelius Celsus wrote De Medicina which laid out surgical methods for reconstructing ears, lips, and noses. Another text entitled Synagogue Medicae, was a 70-volume work that contained numerous passages dedicated to reconstructive techniques to repair facial defects.


The Middle Ages

With the fall of the Roman Empire and the spread of Christianity throughout Europe during the Middle Ages (476– 1453AD), science gave way to mysticism and religion. At one point, Pope Innocent III declared that all surgery was expressly prohibited by Church law.

Later in the Middle Ages, plastic surgery fell further out of favor as it was considered the work of witchcraft.

Despite these limitations and the overall lack of standards for hygiene and cleanliness, minor advancements were still made during this time. A procedure to repair a cleft lip was, in fact, developed in the tenth century.


The Renaissance

The Renaissance occurred from 1300 – 1600AD and saw significant advances in science and technology. During this time, safer and more effective surgical techniques were developed.

An Islamic text from the 15th century, Imperial Surgery, included 191 procedures that included both maxillofacial and eyelid surgery. It also included a protocol for the treatment of gynecomastia and is thus believed to be the foundation for the modern method of surgical breast reduction.

During the 16th century, University of Bologna professor of surgery and anatomy Gaspare Tagliacozzi – whose often referred to as the “father of plastic surgery” – first started nose grafting using skin flaps from the upper arm. He used these techniques primarily to correct saddle nose deformity.

During the seventeenth century, plastic surgery would again decline. But by the late eighteenth and early 19th century, the pendulum would start to swing back in the other direction.


The 1800s

In 1818, German Doctor Karl Ferdinand von Gräefe published Rhinoplastik, being the first to coin the term “plastic” surgery. Originating from the the Greek word, plastikos, and the Latin word, plasticus, it meant “able to be molded.” Since these doctors molded body tissues during their procedures, it was called plastic surgery.

The first cleft palate operation was in 1827 in the United States. It was performed by Dr. John Peter Mettauer using surgical instruments of his own design.

Many women during this time used corsets and brassieres to enhance the look of their breasts. Cosmetic surgeons gradually learned new ways to augment the breast shape and size in women and in the 19th century, surgeons performed the first breast augmentation by using artificial implants made from rubber, paraffin, ivory, and glass.

Finally, the first reconstructive breast surgery was done by Vincenz Czerny in 1895. He performed a successful mammary reconstruction on an actress who had undergone a cancerous surgery and removal of a breast tumor.


The 1900s

At the beginning of the 1900s, the need for plastic surgery was becoming clearer. Its necessity would become ever more apparent with the arrival of World War I.

The casualties of war made reconstructive surgery a necessity for many soldiers. Military physicians were required to treat extensive facial and head injuries caused by modern weaponry – both in the United States and Europe.

Around this time, surgeons began to fully realize the potential influence that one’s personal appearance has on success in life. As such, aesthetic surgery became a more respected aspect of plastic surgery. In 1923, after WWI, the first modern rhinoplasty was performed in the United States.

This progress also brought with it advanced methods of anesthesia and infection prevention so that surgeons could perform increasingly complex procedures.

This fostered the establishment of medical boards and associations to provide continuity of care and research along with a network for medical providers working in the field of plastic and cosmetic surgery.

With board certification in place, plastic surgery became fully integrated into the medical establishment by 1950. And by 1969, plastic surgeons were moving to the forefront of the medical establishment, including Dr. Hal B. Jennings who was appointed Surgeon General that year.

In the 1980s, plastic surgeons and plastic surgery advocates pushed to expand public awareness and improve public perception and growth continued through the 1990s.

Growth continued through the 1990s, and today, plastic surgery is a popular option – whether for reconstructive purposes, health reasons, or to boost one’s appearance and confidence. With so many safe and proven options, it’s no big surprise.


Is Plastic Surgery Right for You?

The long history of plastic surgery demonstrates what a truly viable medical option it is.

So if you’re ready to address a body part that leaves you feeling less than attractive or even makes your life more difficult, contact us today to talk to one of our surgeons.

You’re fortunate to live in a time where you can make such choices.