Plastic Surgery vs. Cosmetic Surgery

Public Perceives Terms Differently, Study Shows

From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 20, 2004 -- What's in a name? When it comes to "plastic surgery," "cosmetic surgery," and "reconstructive surgery," terminology can make a big difference to the public.

People view "cosmetic surgery" as more temporary and less technically difficult than "plastic surgery" or "reconstructive surgery," according to a new study.

The study also shows that the public thinks "cosmetic surgeons" require less specialized training than "plastic" or "reconstructive surgeons."

That's not necessarily true.

The study was conducted by three members of the otolaryngology (head and neck surgery) department at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City, Iowa.

Nearly 220 adults -- mostly Midwesterners -- participated in the survey. Women made up about 66% of the group, which included 29 people who said they had cosmetic, plastic, or reconstructive surgery.

With colleagues, Grant Hamilton III, MD, asked participants in person and via the Internet about the three terms.

They found "significant differences" in perceptions.

Cosmetic surgery was believed to be less risky, with shorter recovery times and less pain. It was also considered more temporary, easier to reverse, and requiring simpler techniques and training.

However, the three terms were viewed similarly in terms of cost.

"Respondents thought all of the options were expensive," write the researchers in the Archives of Facial and Plastic Surgery's September-October edition.

Mainstreaming Makeovers

The reactions may be partly influenced by the popularization of cosmetic surgery.

In the past, patients routinely had psychological examinations before undergoing elective plastic surgery procedures.

Those days are gone, due to a change in attitude.

Demand for plastic surgery has increased along with exposure on TV shows. It has become more common to hear about ordinary people -- not just starlets -- going under the knife.

'Plastic Surgery' Preferred

"Plastic surgery" and "plastic surgeon" are the best terms to use, say the researchers.

That's because "cosmetic surgery" appears to be viewed more casually, which could set up unrealistic expectations about recovery, risk, and results, as well as downplaying doctors' expertise.

Surgery is always serious, with potential dangers, no matter how popular the procedure.

"Our hypothesis is that the brand 'cosmetic surgery' communicates an inaccurate anticipated experience," write the researchers.

"From a brand perspective, plastic surgery appears to be the better value in terms of accurately depicting the surgery and the surgeon."

WebMD Health News

Sources

SOURCES: Hamilton, G. Archives of Facial and Plastic Surgery, September/October 2004; vol 6: pp 315-320. News release, Archives of Facial and Plastic Surgery.
© 2004 WebMD, Inc. All rights Reserved.

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