Despite changing fashions, styles and beauty standards, civilisations and individuals have always been invested in their appearance. In fact, plastic surgery dates back to as early as 800 B.C in Ancient India but surgical or ‘cosmetic’ procedures have been documented in these early years all over the world.
The primitive plastic surgery procedures we have the most information about were those in ancient India, where special healers or doctors would reconstruct the face to suit the patient’s desired look using rudimentary skin grafts. Eastern cultures were always more advanced in evolving or discovering medicines, and this includes cosmetic procedures. Progression was slow but steady and soon plastic surgery was introduced to western civilisations and adopted throughout Europe. At this time, cosmetic surgery entered its first major revolution as it became adapted and refined for different procedures, different features, areas of the body and most notably – different trends that varied from culture to culture.
Plastic Surgery Timeline
Roman physician and writer, Celsus, identified methods and techniques for reconstructing ears, lips and noses.
In the early stages of the Byzantine empire, another medical writer founded an encyclopaedia which detailed (at length) all the possible facial defects and how to rework and repair them.
Reconstructive surgery halted with the fall of Rome and all its opulence and focus on beauty. Science or the arts (as plastic surgery and beauty, in general were considered) fell out of fashion and very few developments were made at this time. Due to poor hygiene, cosmetic surgery was also considered extremely risky.
The renaissance throughout Europe saw a revival in plastic surgery and began real developments and progressions that have paved the way for our thinking and techniques available today. This includes a document written in the fifteenth century that became the foundation for modern surgical breast reduction. This led to developments by Gaspare Tagliacozz in the 1800s, who wrote the original ‘plastic surgery textbook’ which featured a rudimentary boob job surgery that was designed to remedy notable asymmetry in the breasts.
The Development Of Modern Day Cosmetic Surgery
As with so many things, innovation is born from necessity. As wars broke out across the richest nations in the world, many people became maimed, impaired and required reconstructive surgeries. This led to a rapid succession of developments in plastic surgeries from the 17th century all the way through to the 20th. At this point, modern war (WW1 and WW2) altered the severity of wounds inflicted during the war.
It was also during this period that Western medicine explored and started to wield anaesthesia to its full potential. Hygiene standards also began to dramatically improve all throughout the 19th and 20th century as we continued to learn and develop better technologies and hospital protocols.
In the 1940s and 1950s, plastic surgery took hold and became popularised, particularly in America. After initial conversations and shared insights that were originally laughed off by physicians, accredited and respected medical journals started to share the thinking of those who would become the fathers of plastic surgery. A journal dedicated to cosmetic surgery was developed and published regularly.
At this time, the Korean war also broke out. Field and military doctors developed ‘wiring’ techniques to aid with sensitive fractures and reconstruction of the face.
Popularity and progression continued throughout the decades that followed, with plastic surgeons becoming more respectable within the medical community. However, the biggest development during this period was silicone, which quickly became integrated with the breast implantation and enlargement technique. This was quickly adapted and introduced to other cosmetic surgery procedures.
Prosperity, wealth and lifestyles of the 1980s saw more and more consumers undergo plastic surgery – it became mainstream! Despite the economic downturn in the latter part of the decade, procedures did not suffer. In fact, as further medical boards were formed to accredit and regulate surgeries, plastic surgery was more popular, safer and more accessible than ever before! Reconstructive surgeries were even written into law in the USA.
Throughout the 21st century, procedures have continued to grow both in technical developments and accessibility to the masses. Although considered a luxury, as time has gone on, cosmetic surgery has become more available to the everyman. During this time, the leading experts in certain disciplines and surgeries started to shift. For example, traditional methods for combatting hair loss were revolutionised and popularised in Turkey.
Today, trends, styles and fashions are defined by celebrities, but the accessibility and affordability of cosmetic surgery mean that procedures continue to grow in popularity year on year. Who knows what the future holds? As it stands, the medical community are continuing to develop less invasive surgeries with the most advanced technologies and better success rates.