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Medically Reviewed by:

Robert Applebaum M.D.

What is Plastic Surgery and Who is it For?

If you have a physical feature that either doesn’t function as well as it should or doesn’t look the way you’d prefer, you may have wondered what you can do about it. Many people don’t realize that plastic surgery offers hope for people whose bodies are not functioning at an ideal level due to trauma, disease, congenital defects, or other issues. Plastic surgery isn’t just for people who want to look their best (although it certainly can help with that, too), it actually originated to help people who suffered from physical defects that affected their everyday lives. With so many different applications, what is plastic surgery and who is it for?

What is Plastic Surgery?

According to the American College of Plastic Surgeons, plastic surgery involves the “repair, reconstruction, or replacement of physical defects of form or function involving the skin, musculoskeletal system, cranio and maxillofacial structures, hand, extremities, breast and trunk, and external genitalia.” In layman’s terms, that means that plastic surgery is a type of surgery that reconstructs and repairs defects of the face or body that are caused by congenital issues, trauma, burns, disease, and other issues. It’s intended to be reconstructive and address physical deformities that cause a functional issue. Many people confuse plastic surgery with cosmetic surgery or assume that the two are the same thing, perhaps due to the use of the word “plastic,” which is often associated with something fake as like. In fact, the term “plastic surgery” actually originates from an ancient Greek word, plastike, which refers to the art of modeling or sculpting. The first plastic surgery was performed by the ancient Egyptians and Romans, who restored defects in the ears and lips, but the profession really got its start around 800 BC in India, when forehead flaps were used to reconstruct amputated noses. There are two main areas of plastic surgery: reconstructive plastic surgery and cosmetic plastic surgery.

Reconstructive plastic surgery
Reconstructive surgery addresses functional issues caused by injuries, burns, congenital defects, developmental issues, disease, or cancer. The procedures generally have the goal of restoring normal function to the body, but they also have the additional goal of restoring a normal form or appearance to the extent possible. Examples of reconstructive plastic surgery include:

  • Breast reconstruction
  • Cleft pallet surgery
  • Hand surgery
  • Burn repair surgery
  • Lower extremity reconstruction
  • Scar revision surgery
  • Blepharoplasty
  • Breast reduction

Cosmetic plastic surgery
While reconstructive plastic surgery is focused on the restoration of function and return to a normal appearance, cosmetic plastic surgery, also known as body contouring, involves procedures that are designed to enhance a person’s appearance. Cosmetic procedures can maintain a normal appearance, restore a normal appearance, or enhance a person’s appearance beyond what it would otherwise look like in pursuit of an aesthetic goal. Cosmetic plastic surgery does not involve the restoration of function. Examples of cosmetic plastic surgery procedures include:

  • Tummy tuck
  • Weight loss efforts
  • Breast augmentation
  • Gynecomastia
  • Mommy makeover
  • Breast lift or breast implant
  • Arm lift
  • Liposuction
  • Ear pinning
  • Rhinoplasty in cases where breathing is not
  • impacted
  • Face lift
  • Brow lift
  • Eyelid surgery

Who Should Consider Plastic Surgery?

Whether you should consider plastic surgery or not depends on several factors, including the issue to be treated, your overall health, and your goals for the outcome of the procedure. In general, patients who smoke, have certain medical conditions like diabetes or heart issues, are very obese, or are unprepared for the recovery associated with plastic surgery are not considered good candidates for plastic surgery. On the other hand, patients who meet the following criteria may be good candidates for plastic surgery:

  • The patient is a good candidate for their specific procedure (for example, a woman seeking a tummy tuck should be done having children and not trying to lose a significant amount of weight).
  • The patient is in good overall health and does not have any chronic medical conditions, like diabetes or high blood pressure.
    The patient has realistic expectations for what their procedure can and cannot achieve based on their unique anatomy and physical features.
  • The patient does not smoke, as smoking can greatly extend and complicate surgical recovery.
  • The patient is in good psychological health and understands that while getting plastic surgery can help boost a person’s confidence, it will not resolve all of their emotional issues.

In order to determine if a patient is a good candidate for plastic surgery, Dr. Applebaum conducts in-depth consultations with each patient to review procedure options, discuss their goals, carefully examine their unique anatomy, and discuss any challenges that may arise. During the consultation period, Dr. Applebaum is available to answer any questions that patients may have about surgical treatments and will help evaluate the best options for the patient.

Is Plastic Surgery Covered By Insurance?

Whether or not plastic surgery is covered by insurance depends largely on the type of procedure and whether or not a medical need exists for the procedure. For example, septoplasty and rhinoplasty may be covered by health insurance if the patient needs the procedures as a result of difficulty breathing or an injury such as a broken nose. However, if a patient does not have a medical need for rhinoplasty but simply does not like the shape of their nose, their health insurance is unlikely to cover the procedure. As a rule of thumb, if the procedure restores function to a patient’s body, it may be covered by insurance. If the procedure is cosmetic in nature, it will likely not be covered by insurance. Following your consultation, Dr. Applebaum will submit the necessary information to determine if insurance coverage can be obtained for your surgical procedure. The criteria required for insurance coverage will vary based on the patient and the type of treatment needed. Some insurance companies will require proof that the patient has sought other treatments to restore function without success. Board-certified plastic surgeon, Dr. Applebaum prepares a pre-authorization letter along with photographs for each patient, and the insurance company usually responds within a two to four week period. If you are not sure whether your procedure will qualify for insurance coverage, it’s recommended that you schedule a free consultation appointment to discuss your treatment options.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Robert Applebaum

Dr. Robert Applebaum is a world renowned and highly respected Plastic Surgeon who is Board Certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. In his nearly 30 years as a practicing physician, Dr. Applebaum has become known as an innovator in the field of laser technology techniques for plastic surgery procedures. He has published numerous articles and scientific papers about the use of laser technology and educates physicians worldwide on the applications of laser technology for plastic surgery. Dr. Applebaum primarily practices out of his private outpatient surgery center, Four Thirty Six Aesthetic Surgery Center, which is located in Beverly Hills.

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