Woman holding silicone breast implants for plastic surgery
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Why do they call it ‘plastic’ surgery?

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Why do they call cosmetic surgery “plastic” surgery? Is it because they put plastic in people?


Plastic fantastic?

More than just the local pastime of residents of Hollywood and Scottsdale, plastic surgery can be used to repair injury damage or congenital defects and greatly improve the quality of life for people who might otherwise spend their lives disfigured.

Of course, that doesn’t stop us from making jokes about the various celebrities (and not-so-celebrities) that embrace the surgery to — ahem — enhance certain aspects of their physique.

So why is it called plastic surgery?

Why’s it plastic surgery? A look at the etymology

Plastic surgery dates back far further than the use of “plastic” as a noun — the first modern synthetic plastic most of us are familiar with, Bakelite, didn’t show up on the scene till 1907.

In fact, plastic surgery dates as far back as 600 BC, where Sushruta of India performed reconstructive procedures. He pioneered things such as rhinoplasty and dental surgery, and is considered “the father of surgery.”

So, here’s the thing — plastic hasn’t always been a noun. The “plastic” in plastic surgery originally referred to plastic as an adjective — meaning capable of being molded or modeled. The word has its origin in the Greek plastikos, “the art of modeling of malleable flesh.”

Plastic surgery doesn’t usually involve real plastic

Technically, most cosmetic enhancement implants are made of silicone, which isn’t typically considered a true plastic.

While silicone shares many similarities with the stuff that’s used for Tupperware and lawn chairs, silicone has a lot of unique properties — including some aspects that are quite similar to glass — making the study and malleable material a popular choice of medical professionals.