Summary: Since the inception of the two different terms, there’s been quite a bit of confusion about what plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery mean. Much of the confusion comes from the way the terms are easily swapped by uninformed media parties looking to get confessions from celebrities about plastic surgery experiences. But let’s try to set the record straight, at least a little bit, and nail down what plastic surgery means as opposed to cosmetic surgery. Maybe it will help all those gossip websites a little bit.

What’s the Difference Between Cosmetic Surgery and Plastic Surgery?

We have this dance with celebrities. They look great. They say they haven’t had any work done. Magazines work diligently, put together full spread photos, and attempt to prove that the celebrity in question has indeed undergone some kind of cosmetic procedure. The celebrity again denies having any work done. And the cycle repeats itself. It’s not a particularly healthy cycle—and I often wonder if it does more to damage the field of aesthetic plastic surgery than it does to stoke the fire of enthusiasm. Maybe it’s a push, at the end of the day.

However, I wonder if some of this comes from the conflation of plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery. Recently, Brandi Glanville admitted to having some work done—she admitted to having Botox and injectable fillers and other nonsurgical procedures performed. And once she makes this admission, every gossip site on the net starts writing about how Brandi Glanville had plastic surgery performed, about how she was so obviously lying when asked if she had had plastic surgery done.

That might be true. But it’s also possible that what happened was an honest mix up of terms by the gossip site and by those asking the questions. Because if Glanville was asked if she had plastic surgery and she answered no and she has only ever had Botox or injectable fillers, she was basically telling the truth. And this can easily be explained by defining the difference between plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery.

Plastic Surgery Defined (Briefly)

Plastic surgery is usually meant to mean anything involving a scalpel and stitches. Obviously, this includes facelifts and breast augmentation and liposuction. Plastic surgeons, in many cases, are specially certified to practice these types of procedures. Often, when it comes to plastic surgeons, patients will look to make sure they are board certified before agreeing to any given procedure. This is simply a way to ensure the safety of the patient, given that any surgery—even cosmetic plastic surgery—carries with it inherent risks.

However, cosmetic surgery or cosmetic procedures carry with them much less risk. For example, the administration of Botox or injectable fillers are far less risky than, say, a tummy tuck operation. This seems fairly obvious. What’s not obvious is less risk does not mean no risk. You still want to be sure to get your cosmetic procedure from a cosmetic surgeon or clinic. Turning to the black market, unfortunately, is a great way to give yourself some permanent damage or, in some cases, bring about an untimely death.

General Rules of Thumb

So, the general rule of thumb is that plastic surgery is anything that involves a scalpel and cosmetic surgery is anything that involves a syringe or a laser. Now, here’s where it gets confusing. Sometimes, plastic surgeons will throw around the term cosmetic plastic surgery. Generally, this refers to any plastic surgery procedure that is performed for aesthetic reasons. But the “cosmetic plastic surgery” term can be confusing because it sounds just like cosmetic surgery. What’s the difference?

And that brings up the question of this: why, if it’s concerned with mostly injectables and lasers, do cosmetic surgeons use the word “surgeon.” To be honest, there are a lot of marketing and medical reasons why the term surgeon is used—and in that context it makes sense. But I can see why it can be confusing for, say, gossip magazines (who can’t be bothered to do a bit of research, by all accounts).

So the bottom line is that, basically, Brandi Glanville could have been telling the truth. She could have even had a rhinoplasty procedure by a cosmetic surgeon. In Los Angeles, non surgical nose jobs are quite common, thanks to some innovation with dermal fillers in that area. In other words, you can get a non-surgical nose job, in which case you can honestly say that you’ve never had plastic surgery even if your nose looks different.

Blurring the Difference Between Cosmetic Surgery and Plastic Surgery

In such a world, it’s not surprising that celebrities will sometimes lean in the direction of playing coy, especially when they can do so honestly. Because when it comes right down to it, we can be inspired by Glanville’s beauty without being nosing—with wondering whether she had plastic surgery or spreading rumors and gossip. It inspiration is really what we’re after, that’s honestly not too hard to come by.

Cosmetic and plastic surgery is, at its most basic level, a very personal and individual decision. We shouldn’t pry. Because all that’s really important is that you end up quite happy with your results. Most patients that opt for cosmetic surgery end up quite satisfied.

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