Plastic vs. Cosmetic Surgeon: Do You Know the Difference?

Christie Auyeung Plastic Surgery Leave a Comment

Do you know the difference between a plastic and cosmetic surgeon? According to a recent report from the American Society of Plastic Surgeon (ASPS), the majority of people are confused by the titles “plastic surgeon” and “cosmetic surgeon.” Many people incorrectly use the terms interchangeably. If you’re considering surgery to improve your appearance, the difference has important implications.

Let’s break down the differences between these two types of surgeons so you can better understand how to navigate this process.

Plastic Surgery Cosmetic Surgery
Goal Repair defects to reconstruct normal function and appearance Enhance appearance by improving aesthetic appeal, symmetry, and proportion
Surgery Type Necessary – corrects dysfunctional areas of the body Elective – All treated areas are functioning properly
Example Surgeries Breast reconstruction, burn repair surgery, hand surgery Breast enhancement, rhinoplasty, facelift, tummy tuck, liposuction, Botox
Required Training 7-year residency in general surgery and plastic surgery. Additional cosmetic surgery training is optional. Residency in ANY specialty (not necessarily plastic surgery), plus cosmetic surgery training, which can be anything from a 1 year fellowship to a handful of short weekend courses.
Board Certification American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS) (or respective board in respective country) American Board of Cosmetic Surgery (not recognized by the ABPS), or respective board in respective country


Legally, any licensed physician is allowed to perform cosmetic surgery, regardless of whether or how they received cosmetic surgery training.

In general, plastic surgeons have gone through more extensive training in plastic and reconstructive surgery. Because cosmetic surgeons can come from any medical background, not necessarily surgical, they may not be as equipped to deal with complications that can arise during surgery. As a result, most hospitals only allow plastic surgeons certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgeons to perform cosmetic procedures at their facilities.

In conclusion: If you are considering cosmetic surgery, it’s important to do your research on your surgeon’s training, experience, and proven competence in your cosmetic procedure of choice. Beyond understanding your surgeon’s title, it’s a good idea to ask additional qualifying questions about their training, the specific board they have been certified by, whether they have hospital privileges, how many times they have performed the procedure in the past year, how they manage complications if they occur, and before-and-after pictures of previous patients.

Got more questions? Don’t hesitate to reach out to us today!

Christie is a UChicago grad currently living in the San Francisco Bay Area. In her free time, she enjoys tap dancing, learning to windsurf, and trying new foods.