Why Is It Called Plastic Surgery?

Some people believe that the term plastic in plastic surgery refers to breast implants. Others think that plastic surgeons work with plastic material in reconstructing parts of the body.

They’d be wrong on both counts. The term plastic surgery has been around since the late 1700s/early 1800s.

By contrast, the first man-made plastic (also known as Parkesine) wasn’t invented until 1862. And breast implants were developed in 1961. Furthermore, breast implants are not made of plastic.

So why is it called plastic surgery then?

It Is All Greek to Me

Like many words in the English language, the origin of the word plastic comes from Greek. It’s derived from plastikos, which means to mold, shape, grow or form something.

That’s precisely why the synthetic polymer we mentioned above was eventually dubbed “plastic.” Because of its ability to be molded or shaped.  But the term plastic surgery already existed by that time.

Before It Was Known As Plastic Surgery

Interestingly enough, the first instance of plastic surgery can be traced back to the year 2000 B.C in India. During that time, removing one’s nose as a form of punishment was commonplace. So to appease those who had lost their noses, surgeons would create a wax replica of the missing nose, and secure it with skin from the cheek or forehead.

Procedures were recorded in an ancient text known as the Sushruta Samhita and many are still used today. For example, one procedure involved taking skin from the forehead, elevating it off of the underlying muscle and skull, and then rotating it down to reconstruct the nose.

This sort of flap is still used today in patients who have lost part or all of their nose as a result of trauma, cancer, or cocaine use.

So Why Is It Called Plastic Surgery?

Any plastic surgeon worth his or her salt knows about the book, On the Surgery of Mutilation by Grafting. It was written by Gaspare Tagliacozzi and while likely not the title he may have chosen today, it was a highly influential text.

In the book, there’s a great quote that lays the foundation for the current understanding of plastic surgery:

We restore, rebuild, and make whole those parts which nature hath given, but which fortune has taken away. Not so much that it may delight the eye, but that it might buoy up the spirit, and help the mind of the afflicted.

But this was the 1500s, so it still wasn’t known as plastic surgery. It would be a couple of centuries later before that appeared. And oddly enough, there’s no agreement on the where and when of the debut of the term “plastic surgery.”

Some say it was first coined in 1798 by Pierre Default of Greece. Others say it was in 1818 when German doctor Carl Ferdinand von Graefe coined it to describe the process of doctors who molded or reshaped body tissues.

Modern Plastic Surgery As We Know It

Regardless of the exact origin of the term plastic surgery, modern plastic surgery now comprises both reconstructive and aesthetic surgeries.

After World War I, soldiers suffered devastating injuries that required innovative solutions to repair them. Wounds needed to be closed with tissue from elsewhere in order to restore a “normal” appearance and function.

Improved and advanced innovations were required during World War II to help those soldiers. Yet, once surgeons recognized that they could manipulate tissues to reconstruct devastating injuries, attention slowly started to shift to manipulating tissue in a “normal” appearing person in an attempt to achieve a more “perfect” appearance. And this was the birth of cosmetic plastic surgery.

Early cosmetic plastic surgery was very expensive and typically reserved only for the ultra-rich and Hollywood stars. But since then, the field has expanded and now just about anything that someone wants improved can be done so through plastic surgery.

No plastic needed.

Could Plastic Surgery Boost Your Confidence?

Now that you know why is called plastic surgery, it’s strange to think that early plastic surgery procedures were performed over 4000 years ago. And without anesthesia.

Of course, procedures have come a LONG way since then. There are so many more technological advances to help mold and shape your body. So if you feel self-conscious about some part of your appearance, then contact us today.

It’s more than likely we can do something to improve it.