5 Historical Facts About Plastic Surgery

Is plastic surgery a modern field of medicine? If you immediately thought yes, soak in these five historical facts about different types of plastic surgeries.

1. Plastic Doesn’t Mean What You Might Assume

A widespread misconception about plastic surgery is that the “plastic” suggests “fake” or “unnatural.” In actuality, “plastic” comes from the Greek word plastikos, which best translates to “sculpting,” “reshaping,” or “the art of modeling flesh.”

Interestingly, the first mention of plastic first appeared in an 1839 medical journal. However, the versatile substance comprised of polymers didn’t hit the scene until 1907.

2. Ancient Indians Made Considerable Plastic Surgery Strides

India has been producing plastic surgeons since the 6th century BCE, Sushruta being the most famous. Author of the Suśruta-saṃhitā, an essential ancient medical text, Sushruta is widely believed to be the first person to perform a cataract procedure.

Gaspare Tagliacozzi, a 15th-century Italian plastic surgeon who is often dubbed “the father of modern-day reconstructive medicine” closely studied Sushruta’s work. While Sushruta’s book is venerated, scholars credit Tagliacozzi for writing the first, true textbook on reconstructive medicine.

3. Roman Concerns: Back Scars and Deformed Ears

In ancient Rome, walking around with back scars was not cool, it was a mark of shame. So, seeing an opportunity, enterprising Roman physicians devised ways to conceal posterior wounds. In the 1st century BCE, citizen doctors became skilled in the art of ear-mutilation restoration.

4. The 15th Century: Reconstructive Procedures Are All The Medical Rage

By the 1400s, medically-minded scholars were publishing theories and research on rhinoplasty. Antonio Branca developed a nose reconstruction method that involved an 8-day-long period where patients’ noses were connected to their upper arms. In 1460 Heinrich von Pfolspeundt, a German physician, wrote a letter in which he noted a way “to make a new nose for one who lacks it entirely, and the dogs have devoured it.”

5. The 19th and 20th Centuries: Reconstructive Medicine Takes Off

By the time the 1800s rolled around, physicians had a much firmer grasp on anatomy and analgesics, which led to medical innovations. In 1895, a plastic surgeon performed the first breast augmentation surgery using back fat. And by 1899, doctors were creating breast implants from paraffin, beeswax and vegetable oil.

Progress in the field continued through the early 20th century, and skin grafting techniques especially helped soldiers returning from WWI and WWII.

So, the next time someone tries to dismiss plastic surgery as a vain, modern endeavor, you can drop some quirky knowledge to the contrary.

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