Progression of Plastic Surgery Through History

19 Feb 2021

Progression of Plastic Surgery Through History

The progression of plastic surgery through history has seen cosmetic procedures become increasingly popular.  In 2021 they have become commonplace.

Women represent the majority of ‘cosmetic patients.’They account for around 86% (Guest, 2018). Today, these practices are most likely to enhance the appearance and achieve the ideal look. However, not everyone has the same perception of the ideal look. In fact, we see that definitions vary among multiple countries and cultures.

Over time new procedures become more widely popular. This is attributed to research and more advanced procedures. Historically, most cosmetic procedures were performed on women. And, most of those were to enhance their beauty and/or a youthful appearance. Male plastic surgery — focused and customized to the specific anatomy –, is a much newer and less practiced field.

Progression of Plastic Surgery Through History

Ancient Cosmetic Practices

From ancient times doctors have been trying to figure out new ways of performing body altering surgeries. Piercing, scarification, and tattooing were popular in ancient times. And, they remain popular today. More importantly, reconstructive surgeries arose from cosmetic procedures (Robinson, 2015).

In ancient Asia, “healers” would use techniques associated with modern rhinoplasty to shape the noses of royal family members. One of the first cosmetic surgeons in the world was a healer in India known as Sushruta, who was the first to perform skin grafts. This revolutionary procedure helped to reconstruct people with disfigurement or damage to their skin.

plastic surgery through the decades

Medicine history credits the father of plastic surgeons to Gaspare Tagliacozzi who performed nose grafting from the skin from the flaps of the upper arms. It wasn’t until the 19th century — with the introduction of anesthesia and antiseptics –, that cosmetic surgery became easier to perform. It also became much safer for those undergoing procedures.

During the World Wars, there was growth in the cosmetic surgery field to help the looks of those wounded from war (Robinson). Many other procedures remained unsafe up until more recent times. But some are still risky to perform. These may include things like butt augmentation. The procedures could have risky aftereffects from the methods used. For example, the aftereffects on surrounding tissue. It was only in the past century that surgeons have made significant progress with newer, safer, techniques.

Modern Plastic Surgery

Modern rhinoplasty in the USA did not occur until after 1923 and surgeons adapted to modern ways of performing plastic surgery. The first facelift in the USA wasn’t until 1931. However, breast augmentation was brought to the USA as early as 1903. The enhancement of breasts is a major component of Western culture — and has been for centuries. These early surgeries were painful and disfiguring. In the early days of the procedure, they used ivory, glass, metal, and rubber as implants. These surgeries were hardly successful. They caused medical issues for those who underwent such extreme measures (Sarwer, Nordmann, & Herbert, 2000).

plastic surgery over the decades

Other methods arose that involved the injection of paraffin, petroleum jelly, and olive oil.  These too caused complications and unpleasing results. New methods arose throughout the 1940s and women still underwent the newly risen procedures. Liquid silicone was injected directly into breasts which were found to be highly unsafe and would destroy surrounding tissues. The result was women undergoing mastectomies. These procedures were dangerous, painful, and didn’t always give the intended results.

Cosmetic Procedures Today

Advances in the field have led to innovative new approaches. Many cases are now performed with minimal invasiveness. The major surgeries of the past are now performed as simple outpatient procedures with incredibly short recovery times. In terms of safety, the statistics speak for themselves. Today’s cosmetic surgery is completely opposite to that of prior decades. The safety records of the best surgeons are mostly flawless. Consumer awareness is also on the rise. Information is more abundant and available online, the costs of procedures have dropped, and the results are incredible. There are also boards, certifications, and regulations in place to protect consumers. It is important to be sure you are getting a board-certified plastic surgeon.

The wealth of knowledge in the plastic surgery community is constantly expanding. And while much is understood for today’s female patients, there is still more to learn about male patients. Now that the social stigmas — surrounding cosmetic surgery and injectables have been lifted –, industry experts are learning more nuanced ways of performing certain procedures for men (and women). Dr. Douglas Steinbrech is one of the industry leaders in cosmetic surgery for men. The NYU alum says, “There just hasn’t been a lot written about men; there hasn’t been a lot taught about men. We didn’t learn about men in our residencies and fellowships. We learned mostly about women.

history of male plastic surgery

Dr. Steinbrech is the founder of the Male Plastic Surgery network and a board-certified plastic surgeon under the American Board of Plastic Surgeons. He and several other industry pioneers are among a few surgeons that have practices focusing on procedures that are most commonly done for men. Dr. Steinbrech and his peers released the first-ever textbook covering male aesthetics in 2020. Its release (which reached best-seller on its first day) is evidence that the world of cosmetic surgery is still blossoming despite how far it’s come.




Marketing, P. P. (2018, November 01). Latest International Study Shows Global Rise In Cosmetic Surgery. Retrieved from

Robinson, R. C. (2017, February 20). The History of Cosmetic Surgery – How It All Began. Retrieved from

Main Photo by Victoria Strukovskaya on Unsplash

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