About Cosmetic Surgery
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Frequently Asked Questions About Cosmetic Surgery

Q. What is the difference between cosmetic and plastic surgery?

A. Cosmetic surgery is a unique discipline of medicine focused on enhancing appearance through surgical and medical techniques. Cosmetic surgery can be performed on all areas of the head, neck and body. Because treated areas function properly but lack aesthetic appeal, cosmetic surgery is elective.

Plastic surgery is defined as a surgical specialty dedicated to reconstruction of facial and body defects due to birth disorders, trauma, burns, and disease. Plastic surgery is intended to correct dysfunctional areas of the body and is reconstructive in nature.

Looking for Procedural Information?

Visit our procedures page to find a list of common and popular cosmetic procedures, both invasive and non-invasive. You can learn the basics about each procedure, who ideal candidates are for the procedures, intended results, recovery details, and alternative options.

Q. Why is cosmetic surgery commonly equated with plastic surgery if they are two separate specialties?

A. The most important thing to remember is that the terms 'plastic surgery' and 'cosmetic surgery' are not interchangeable. Confusion about the terms has led to public misconceptions about the two specialties. Cosmetic surgery is the "surgery of appearance." It is elective and focuses on the aesthetics of beauty.

Q. How does the education differ between a plastic surgeon and a cosmetic surgeon?

A. Because the procedures and outcomes of each are quite different, the training of cosmetic surgeons and plastic surgeons is also very different.

As there are no residency programs specifically focused on cosmetic surgery, physicians pursuing cosmetic surgery have backgrounds that include medical school, a residency and/or fellowship program, preferably in a surgical specialty, usually followed by attaining board certification in that specialty, and post-residency training specifically in cosmetic surgery. This can be done through a cosmetic surgery fellowship program, as well as through workshops, seminars and lectures. Physicians with significant experience in cosmetic surgery become certified by the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery (ABCS), which has established a strict set of criteria to ensure experience and proficiency specifically in cosmetic surgery.

Plastic surgeons follow a similar path as many cosmetic surgeons. However, after finishing medical school they complete a residency and/or fellowship in plastic surgery, and then may become certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. At this point, a plastic surgeons additional training in cosmetic surgery is optional. If they choose, they may take steps to gain experience in cosmetic surgery through a fellowship training program, workshops, seminars and lectures, and then become certified by the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery after having completed the necessary requirements.

Board certification is extremely important in determining a surgeon's qualifications. Each of the aforementioned certifying boards has very different requirements and measures a physician's education and experience in different fields. It is important that the public as well as healthcare professionals understand these differences so patients can make informed decisions when choosing a surgeon for a specific procedure, whether it is a cosmetic or plastic surgeon. Education and patient safety are at the very core of the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery's mission to advance the specialty of cosmetic surgery and quality patient care.

Q. What does it mean to be "Board Certified"?

A. Board certification is one of the many yardsticks in determining a surgeon's qualifications. It is important to ask your doctor about his or her credentials and study them carefully. Each certifying board has different requirements and measures a physician's education and experience in different fields. Check your doctor's board certification and professional society affiliation(s) and call the board or society to find out what the requirements are for membership

All Fellows of the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery are certified by the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery and/or have their initial board certification by one of the member boards of the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) such as the American Boards of Dermatology, Otolaryngology, Ophthalmology, Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery and Plastic Surgery. This provides some assurance of formal training in the fundamentals of cosmetic surgery. All of these specialty boards require at least four years of residency training in plastic and/or cosmetic surgical procedures and provide a solid base for the doctor's skills.

Many of these board-certified physicians will then go on to complete the requirements to undergo the rigorous oral and written testing and scrutiny to become board-certified by the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, which has established a strict set of criteria to ensure experience and proficiency specifically in cosmetic surgery.

Q. What is the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery?

A. The American Board of Cosmetic Surgery is the only certifying board exam devoted to examining a surgeon's skill in cosmetic surgery of the face and body. It is an independent sub-specialty board that examines and certifies physicians in general, facial and dermatological cosmetic surgery.

Eligibility requirements include:
  • Being certified in one of several ABMS Boards (including the American Board of Plastic Surgery, American Board of Surgery, American Board of Dermatologic Surgery, or the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery)
  • Completing an AACS-approved fellowship, or
  • Being in practice a minimum of six years and having performed at least 1000 cosmetic surgery cases
  • Passing a stringent two-day oral and written examination
  • Being of good moral character

You can learn more about the ABCS and find physicians board-certified in cosmetic surgery at www.americanboardcosmeticsurgery.org.

Q. Where can I find out if a doctor has had malpractice suits against him/her? Where can I file a complaint against a physician?

A. Each state has its own Medical Board that licenses physicians and tracks complaints and disciplinary actions taken against physicians of all disciplines. Most states have online systems to quickly look up doctors by name. Contact your state's Medical Board or Department of Health to find the correct office. A listing of State Medical Boards may be found at www.fsmb.org under "Board Directory."

Q. What should consumers think about when they are looking for a physician to perform a cosmetic procedure?

A. The American Medical Association recommends that patients choose a health care provider based on his or her training, education, experience and demonstrated practice history. Ultimately, prospective patients need to choose a physician based on the procedure they are having. They should know how often their physician performs the procedure as well as his or her training in that area. Consumers should also speak with individuals who have received patient care from the physicians they are considering and ask to see results before committing to a doctor.

Q. At what age do most people have cosmetic surgery?

A. The average age patients receive cosmetic surgery is 41. Treatments such as breast augmentation, liposuction, rhinoplasty (nose job) and dermabrasion are common among younger patients while procedures including blepharoplasty (eyelift), breast lift, facelift and Botox® are more commonly sought by older patients.