The word “plastic” in the term “plastic surgery” evolved from the Greek word “plastikos,” meaning “to mold.” 

The first textbook on plastic surgery was written by Gaspar Tagliacozzi in the 1500s. He wrote about the reconstruction of noses after trauma.

The first breast augmentation was done in 1895, when tissue from the back was transplanted to the breast.

The first implantable materials were implanted into the breast in 1889, and they included paraffin and beeswax, and – later on –vegetable oil, industrial silicone, and Ivalon sponges. I personally removed a number of these decades ago. Thankfully, none lately, as they felt like lumpy bricks.

The father of modern-day plastic surgery was Jacques Joseph, particularly with the rhinoplasty, and this was around the turn of the last century. His techniques and surgical instruments are still used today.

Plastic surgery grew with reconstruction of World War I injuries. Plastic surgeons became involved in peace time injuries, including burns, facial fractures from automobile accidents and injuries at work and on farms with the advent of automated machinery.  

Also, reconstruction for birth defects such as cleft lip and cleft palates and cancer were needed.  Prior to “cosmetic” surgery, these were a plastic surgeon’s focus.  

When Hollywood movies began, female movie stars were among the first to request cosmetic surgery. A tragic example was Hedy Lamarr, who sought out a plastic surgeon and told him where she wanted skin removed and where she wanted fillers injected into her face – at the time, probably industrial silicone.  

Apparently, the results were disfiguring to the point that she became a recluse and would not even let her children see her until her death.  

Breast enlargement became popular with the famous Carol DoDa, a topless dancer in San Francisco, who had large amounts of silicone injected into her breasts. The results were spectacular as far as size went, but were hard and lumpy.

These first requests lead to a boom in plastic surgery for the everyday person.  

Silicone breast implants were developed in the 1960s, and thousands of women flocked to plastic surgeons for breast enlargement. The request for “nose jobs,” eyelid lifts, facelifts, breast uplifts and reductions, ear pinning, and other “cosmetic” procedures also became popular.

Liposuction was invented around 1980 and has since become the most popular cosmetic surgical procedure.

Today, many working people have little or no down time for cosmetic procedure recovery, so there has been a demand for “non-surgical procedures,” thus the birth of Botox/Dysport, and fillers such as Juvederm, Sculptra and Restylane. Also, lasers and radio-frequency devices, automated hair transplant equipment, and cosmeceutical skin care systems have become mainstream.

There is still a need for “reconstructive” surgeons, but the demand for cosmetic surgery is very common now. With cosmetic dentistry, hair dyes, youthful clothing and cosmetic surgery, today’s grandmothers look vastly different from photos of grandmothers of the past. As with virtually everything, technology and techniques continue to improve with time.

E. Ronald Finger, MD, FACS is a board certified plastic surgeon with offices in Savannah and Bluffton.