Some people use the terms plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery interchangeably, when in fact these terms have very different meanings.  If you’re interested in having any surgical procedure, it is important to understand the difference.

Plastic surgery, sometimes known as reconstructive surgery, involves correcting an abnormality resulting from a birth defect, health condition or accident. Abnormalities can be aesthetic or functional or both. For instance, an accident victim may still be able to see, eat, breathe, hear and do everything he or she could do before the accident, but has been left with a disfigured face. Someone else may have lost part of an ear and has impaired hearing. Plastic surgery can repair the disfigurement and reconstruct the ear.

Cosmetic surgery, by contrast, is performed on normal, healthy body parts to improve their appearance. People have cosmetic surgery to improve the way they look, based on their own ideals of beauty. For instance, a 65-year-old woman may have a normal face for her age, but she may want to tighten the skin and muscles by having a facelift.

Plastic surgeons can fix things such as cleft pallets, broken noses or scarring from skin cancer, however, they also perform cosmetic surgery. Some procedures, such as rhinoplasty and breast reconstruction, can be both reconstructive and cosmetic. Plastic surgery might be used to correct a structural imperfection, such as a deviated septum, which impedes breathing, and, at the same time, improve the appearance of the patient’s nose. Breast reconstruction might be used after a single mastectomy, and the surgeon might lift or augment the other breast at the same time.

There is also a difference in a patient choosing a cosmetic surgeon or a plastic surgeon to perform a procedure. The primary difference between a plastic surgeon and a cosmetic surgeon or physician is the training that they have undergone.

It is important to understand the reason you are having the surgery, firstly so that you end up with what you want, and additionally, to optimise your potential for a rebate from your private health insurer, if applicable.

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