For many people considering cosmetic surgery, if they were asking around their friends and families members for advice, it’s doubtful that’s how they would describe it. They are fast more likely to refer to it as the more colloquial plastic surgery. 

But where does that name actually come from and is it technically correct, given that there isn’t any plastic involved? Breast enlargement surgeries might not have been invented until the 1960s but the basic processes of cosmetic surgery have roots that stretch back hundreds and even thousands of years. Maybe it’s in these dusty annals of time that we’ll find our answers?

The origins of plastic surgery

The actual substance of plastic has only been around since the mid 19th century but the word itself has been around for far longer. Indeed, it has its roots in Ancient Greece and the word “plastikos” which roughly translates as ‘the form or grow’.

The practise of plastic surgery , meanwhile, can be traced all the way back to 6th century BC India, where rhinoplasties were performed by a physician known only as “Sushruta.” It wasn’t until the 16th century, however, that the kind of plastic surgery we know today was given room to grow and form.

The father of plastic surgery

The Italian surgeon Gaspare Tagliacozzi is often referred to as the father of plastic surgery as he was one of the first people to write a book about it. His quite shockingly titled tome “On the Surgery of Mutilation by Grafting” proved to be an incredibly influential work which laid the foundations for a sector that wasn’t to find mainstream acceptance for another 500 years.

The term itself

It was at the very end of the 18th century that the actual term plastic surgery was first discussed by the Grecian surgeon Pierre Default and it’s a name that appears to have stuck even as the decades  progressed and the practice became completely unrecognisable. Indeed, the science is so much more sophisticated now that it is not only elective surgeries held under the plastic surgery banner. 

Plastic surgeons are not just in the business of beautifying anymore but also lend their skills to reconstructive procedures and even treatment for some serious illnesses. The bread and butter of the industry, however, remains in moulding and growing, which is rather apt, given the origins of the term. But don’t let the term out you off! Cosmetic surgery today is a far more dignified and safe practice than it was back in Sushruta’s day!


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