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Why is it Called 'Plastic'?

[fa icon="calendar"] September 9, 2018 / by Dr.J

How did 'Plastic' Surgery get its name?  Read on for the answer and other interesting facts about this unique specialty.

Upon first consideration, you might think that 'Plastic' surgeons use the material 'plastic' when doing what they do.  That's not the case but both the surgical specialty and the stuff that toys are made of get their names from the same place.
The Greek word 'Plastikos' means 'to shape or mold'.  Plastic Surgeons shape body tissues to either reconstruct a wound or to make a body part more visually pleasing.  A key feature of the material plastic is its ability to be molded into different shapes.

The History of Plastic Surgery

You may think that Plastics is a relatively new discipline, but believe it or not, descriptions of the first plastic surgical procedures can be traced back to an ancient Egyptian text dated around 2500-3000 BC!  (see picture below).
More 'recently', Indian surgeons were performing nasal reconstructions around 800 BC using skin taken from the forehead.  Believe it or not, this same technique is still being used to repair nasal defects today!  In fact, I recently blogged about such a case !
The surgical specialty's formal name is 'Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery', but a more accurate name would be 'Aesthetic and Reconstructive Surgery.'  
Modern Reconstructive Plastic Surgery traces its roots to the aftermath of World War I when pioneering surgeons invented ways to reconstruct the injuries soldiers suffered during the war.  Sir Harold Gillies is considered the father of modern Plastic Surgery for his work, mostly reconstructing facial injuries, often from gunshot wounds.
All good reconstructive surgery has an aesthetic component, as an important goal of these surgeries is not only to obtain a healed wound, but to have it look good as well.  Purely aesthetic surgery, however, is a much more recent phenomenon.
Breast augmentation was first performed in the 19th century, but not with implants like we know them today.  Surgeons first performed the breast enlargement procedure by using  implants made from rubber, paraffin, ivory and glass.  (Glass!) 
The modern prosthetic breast was invented in 1961 by the American Plastic Surgeons Thomas Cronin and Frank Gerow, and manufactured by the Dow Corning Corporation.  The first augmentation mammaplasty was performed in 1962.  Since then, implants have undergone many changes to make them safer and feel more like natural breast tissue.
Although the first known use of suction to remove fat from the body was performed by French surgeon Charles Dujarier in the 1920s, the development of modern liposuction is credited to father and son Italian gynecologists Arpad and Giorgio Fischer who in 1974 invented a blunt, hollow surgical instrument called a cannula that allowed them to create tunnels between major blood vessels of the body while sucking out fat. 
Subsequent advances in the technique have included the use of 'tumescent' fluid which numbs the area to be treated and limits blood loss as well as the use of smaller and safer canulas.

Topics: Blog, history of plastic surgery


Written by Dr.J

Dr.Jeffrey Horowitz is a Board Certified Plastic Surgeon committed to his patients' health and beauty.