With the start of a new year, we thought it would be interesting to look back at the history of cosmetic surgery and see how far we’ve come today. It’s kind of a scary job, considering how invasive and horrific surgeries used to be before modern medicine and technology, but oftentimes the past can be a window into the future.
It all began back in 1787 with the birth of John Mettauer, who would later grow up to be America’s first “plastic” surgeon. Contrary to what most people assume, the term “plastic” in cosmetic surgery does not refer to the artificiality of the operation, but comes from the Greek root word “plastikos,” which means to mold or to give something form, whether it is reconstructive or aesthetical.
In essence, this is what plastic surgery seeks to do.
Numerous ancient written histories—Egyptian, Roman, Galen, etc.—have recorded medical treatment and reconstruction for face injuries more than 4,000 years ago, and Indian physicians were doing skin grafts as far back as 800 BCE and rhinoplasty by the 1700s, but it wasn’t until Dr. Mettauer performed the first cleft palate operation using tools he designed himself that modern medicine made cosmetic surgeries relatively safe.
Mettauer’s operation was possible thanks to the recent invention of anesthesia and antibiotics. Up until this point, surgeries were done without these pain relieving techniques, and consequently involved unbelievable amounts of agony. Anesthesia and antibiotics reduce the pain of operations, and increased the likelihood of success by fighting off infection. This was the launching point for modern cosmetic surgery.
It is an unfortunate reality that plastic surgery gained notoriety through war.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, plastic surgeons were kept busy treating soldiers wounded in battle—shattered jaws, crushed noses, missing lips, gaping holes in skulls, etc. With the rise of modern weapons, new and horrific injuries were becoming more commonplace, and plastic surgeons rose to meet the demand for treating these disfiguring wounds. By World War I, cosmetic surgery was on the front lines of medical science and the battlefield, trying to give injured soldiers a chance at a normal life.
Aesthetical cosmetic surgeries also began taking root in society around this time as people sought to take advantage of the plastic surgery technology to improve their self-confidence and re-form their appearance.
Additional advancements in technology continued to be made during the last half of the 20th century, reducing the health risks of plastic surgery and making the operations virtually painless and less invasive. As a result, the blossoming industry grew exponentially year after year.
In 1997 there were a reported 2.1 million cosmetic procedures in America, and as of 2012, cosmetic surgeries were at a remarkable 13.8 million operations per year and counting. Most operations are now done in a matter of a couple hours, with patients experiencing a full recovery in weeks. Nearly $10 billion was spent on cosmetic procedures in 2011, with liposuction and Botox topping the list.
Right now, scientists are engaging in exciting studies seeking to improve the benefits and efficiency of modern plastic surgery in the coming years. In the very near future, surgeons are hopeful that they will be using dermal fillers that last longer, lasers that inject “energy” into the skin, cloning techniques as a means of body rejuvenation, and scarless healing from growth within the womb to further improve their patients’ quality of life.
Plastic surgery has had a fascinating history, and much of its exciting future still lies ahead. Read more of our blog to find out about the latest advancements happening in cosmetic surgery.