Plastic Surgery History

Q: Dr. Eppley, why does plastic surgery get its name? Can I assume that most plastic surgery operations work by putting in some form of plastic or synthetic material?

A: While there are certainly some plastic surgery procedures that do employ the use of synthetic materials to create their effects, most commonly that of breast augmentation for example, the vast majority of plastic surgery procedures use the patient’s own natural tissues for either cosmetic and reconstructive efforts. The timeline of plastic surgery history will show that the surgical specialty name and that of synthetic material development are quite different.

By modern day perceptions of plastic surgery, most people would be surprised how old the field of plastic surgery really is. The term plastic surgery can be traced way back to the early 1800s in German surgical texts. This predates the development of synthetic plastic materials by more than one hundred years. India placed a major historic role in developing reconstructive plastic surgery techniques due to the need to rebuild lost noses and lips that had been cut off by local warlords to mark the people that had violated local customs and rules. But it was World War I that catapaulted plastic surgery into an organized and recognized surgical specialty due to trench warfare and the devastating facial and burn injuries that it created. This subsequently lead to the creation of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons in the late 1930s…which still predated the developement and commercial use of plastic materials.

Dr. Barry Eppley

Indianapolis, Indiana