The Historical Roots of Cosmetic Surgery Begin with Reconstructive Surgery

To fully understand how ancient plastic surgery is one need only look to the root of its meaning.

The term plastic surgery has nothing to do with plastic. In fact, it comes from the Greek word plastikos, which means to mold. And plastic surgery is just that: the molding of human tissue.

The word came along long before the plastic industry, says Darrick Antell, an assistant clinical professor of plastic surgery at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York and the only plastic surgeon to have his work on display at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History for his studies on aging in identical twins.

The History of Plastic Surgery

Initially, says Antell, people looked down on plastic surgery because they thought surgeons were interfering with God’s work. Even reconstructive surgery, such as fixing a cleft lip or cleft palate, was questionable.

“Plastic surgeons of the day were considered castouts for their work,” says Antell.

Still, whether it was frowned upon by society or not, people have been going under the knife for thousands of years. The roots of cosmetic surgery are in reconstructive surgery, especially in those born with deformities and impacted by war.

The forehead flap was among the first cosmetic surgeries done in ancient India because centuries ago, when people were conquered, they would cut off the noses of those who lost to mark them, and this early form of surgery was used to fix the damage.

“The earliest reconstructive plastic surgery techniques include procedures to repair the broken and amputated noses of ‘criminals’ in 1200 B.C.,” says Donald B. Yoo, medical director at HALO Beverly Hills Plastic Surgery & MedSpa. “India and Roman descriptions use primitive suture materials for repairs of the lips and ears from the 1st century B.C.” 

Read More: Ancient Medical Treatments Still Used Today

The Advent of War and Facial Reconstruction

Reconstructive techniques became really important in response to the deformities of war. Techniques began to modernize after World War I.

“Ballistic and other complex facial injuries provided a fertile breeding ground for innovating plastic surgery techniques to reconstruct and ultimately reshape the face,” Yoo says.

Plastic surgery became more important with the advent of trench warfare in World War I, when bullets could strike people in the face in the trenches. Antell says that some of the earliest plastic surgeons (including himself) have both a dental and medical degree because they had to be very adept at rebuilding the mouth and teeth.

“Though the operations they did by today’s standards would be considered crude,” says Antell.

Read More: 4 Ways Facial Reconstruction In The Military Has Evolved

The Cosmetic Surgery of the Modern Era

Modern cosmetic surgery wasn’t accepted by the public until around the 1970s, and even then, it was considered work that doctors would do on Fridays after the office was closed, says Antell. “At this time, many doctors didn’t like to admit that they did cosmetic surgery.”

However, over the years, plastic surgery has become more widely known and accepted. Thomas Rees is credited with bringing science into aesthetic plastic surgery and for publishing one of the first of many comprehensive books on aesthetic surgery in the 1970s. He also organized the first symposium that gathered leaders of the industry together and brought what we think of as modern plastic surgery into the mainstream.

Antell says that the best plastic surgeons of today need to have both an understanding of good aesthetics and good reconstructive techniques. “There’s really no dividing line between the two,” he says.

Plastic surgery has come a long way. It’s much less invasive and, when done well, less noticeable. In fact, fillers and injections have become the most popular both because patients don’t have to go under the knife and because of how specific they can be at reversing aging. After all, says Antell, the best plastic surgery “doesn’t scream, it whispers.”

Read More: Anti-Aging Benefits Could Be Found in Blood

Article Sources

Our writers at use peer-reviewed studies and high-quality sources for our articles, and our editors review for scientific accuracy and editorial standards. Review the sources used below for this article:

  • Assistant clinical professor of plastic surgery at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. Darrick Antell

  • Medical director at HALO Beverly Hills Plastic Surgery & MedSpa. Donald B. Yoo

  • Manhattan Eye, Ear, and Throat Hospital. Our Founder

Sara Novak is a science journalist based in South Carolina. In addition to writing for Discover, her work appears in Scientific American, Popular Science, New Scientist, Sierra Magazine, Astronomy Magazine, and many more. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from the Grady School of Journalism at the University of Georgia. She’s also a candidate for a master’s degree in science writing from Johns Hopkins University, (expected graduation 2023).

Source : Discovermagazine