The History of Plastic Surgery

The term plastic surgery stands for the “operative manual and instrumental treatment performed for both functional and aesthetic reasons.” Plastic surgery has two broad fields – reconstructive surgery and cosmetic. The term ‘plastic’ was derived from the Greek word plastikos meaning to mold or form, which in turn, is what plastic surgeons do to their patients. Many others believe the true origins began with the foundations of early papyri from Egypt or even Sanskrit texts of ancient India. Within these texts from nearly 2,600 years ago (Cisaschini) were descriptions of nose, ear and lip reconstructions.
The first use of the term “plastic surgery” was not used until 1818 by Von Graeme in his book Rhinoplastik. While technique, medication treatments and procedures have changed over the year, the underlying concept of the procedure has remained the same – restoration of the normal form and function or enhancement to a super normal proportion.

According to EVOLVE, the official website of certified plastic surgeons, the first plastic surgery occurred in 1827 by Dr. John Peter Mettauer who performed a cleft palate operation. The modern plastic surgery procedures began in the 1960s & 70s. The need to look perfect is haunting many of America’s people – with increasing cosmetic surgery rates almost yearly.
However, the origin of the procedures began with war patients who needs body reconstruction during the war. During World War 1, doctors changed the history of plastic surgery. Many of the modern weapons caused severe wounds and burns causing a rise in the amount of treatments occurring. Shattered jaws, blown-off noses and lips and gaping skull wounds caused by modern weapons required innovative restorative procedures. Some of the best doctors from Britain, France, Germany, Russia and Austria-Hungary took time to restore the faces and lives of soldiers during and after World War I.
These surgeons created new techniques to treat men that were injured by the war. By the end of the war, nearly 11,572 major facial operations had occurred at Queen’s Hospital, Kent, England. Plastic surgery started to grow after that war, and because many surgeons felt that soldiers whose faces had been torn away by bursting shells on the battlefield could come back into an almost normal life with new faces created by the wizardry of the new science of plastic surgery.

According to, many of these patients were treated by a French army surgeon, Morestin, who established a treatment centre in France. He was one of the first to show that skin and the underlying tissue could be undermined and advanced without being subjected to necrosis. A british surgeon, Harold Gillies, visited Morestin in France and was fascinated by his medical work and with the help of his army consultant, Sir William Arbuthnot Lane, started a similar establishment within the United Kingdom at Aldershot Military Hospital. This was the first organized center of facial plastic surgery in the world.

During this time V.H. Kazanjian of Boston, a dental surgeon who served in the First Harvard Unit applied his own knowledge to these facial injuries and established the first plastic surgery unit in the world. Gillies however was the first to confine his work to Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and began to learn more specialized techniques for procedures. The teachings of these procedures began in 1925, where LeMaitre, Chief of the Otolaryngological Service in Paris, organized an international clinic and conducted yearly series for 3 years. Gillies also gave demonstrations and Jacques Joseph, a German orthopaedic-trained surgeon, taught courses on early techniques of plastic surgery.

According to the 2005 article “Cosmetic Surgery and Cosmetics: Redefining the Appearance of Age by Kathryn Bayer, war time doctors used their surgery as a mean to remove the marks of battles from veteran. This procedure and attitude toward implementing it, provided the legitimacy needed to invoke a widespread interest of the benefits of this type of surgery.
The public viewed these surgeons as reputable medical persons, so many believed these procedures could take place with anyone who desired a new face. It was the war that catapulted this procedure into a new and higher realm. What occurred for medical reasoning to soldiers, has since become a mass-market of people wanting to create the perfect face.

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