The Difference Between Cosmetic and Reconstructive Surgery

Oftentimes, the words “cosmetic surgery” and “reconstructive surgery” are used to describe the same types of plastic surgery. However, these are two very different categories, and it is important to know those differences.

Reconstructive Surgery

Reconstructive surgery involves fixing an abnormal body part or facial feature and reconstructing it to appear normal. Reconstructive surgery may be necessary because of:

  • Trauma
  • Birth defects
  • Infection
  • Developmental abnormalities
  • Tumors and disease

Reconstructive surgery is typically performed to improve function, to make a deformity appear more normal or to alleviate health complications associated with the abnormality. Reconstructive surgery is covered by most health insurance policies, but coverage for specific procedures and levels of coverage varies. A reconstructive procedure may include:

  • Fixing a broken nose
  • Correcting birth defects
  • Repairing a cleft lip

Cosmetic Surgery

Cosmetic surgery is not necessary because of a deformity or health issue, it is performed solely to improve your appearance. Instead of reshaping your body’s normal structure, cosmetic surgery modifies a body part or facial feature with the primary goal of enhancing your self-confidence. This type of plastic surgery is elective, so it is seldom covered by insurance companies. Breast augmentation usually falls into the cosmetic surgery category. However, if you are a breast cancer patient and are undergoing breast enhancement surgery to reconstruct your breast, this is considered reconstructive surgery. When breast augmentation is not performed to reconstruct breasts that have been lost to cancer, breast enhancement surgeries are cosmetic. Examples of other cosmetic procedures include:

  • Tummy tuck surgery
  • Facial surgery such as a facelift or brow lift
  • Anti-aging procedures such as injectable fillers
  • Hair replacement treatments

Reconstructive or Cosmetic?

There are a number of "gray areas" where a procedure will fall under the cosmetic or reconstructive category depending on the reason for surgery. For example, a severely broken nose that needs surgery to fix and straighten will typically qualify for reconstructive surgery. If your nose functions properly, but you want to change the size or shape, this falls under the cosmetic category.