Who invented Plastic Surgery?

Plastic surgery has its meaning derived from the Greek πλαστική (τέχνη), which means “reshaping,” and plastikē (tekhnē), which means “to mold or give form.” It is understandable that some people actually believe that plastic surgery has something to do with the material plastic.  However, the modern consumer and industrial material, plastic, was about 70 years behind the first appearance of the word “plastic” in the medical literature.  So, the surgical use of the word has been around longer than what we normally think about when hearing the word “plastic.”  Generally, when combined with the word “surgery,” many individuals throughout the world realize that someone is referring to a surgical procedure that changes the appearance of the body or face.

When referring to the surgical process, it is mainly used for two purposes:  1) Reconstruction of various body parts, and 2) enhancing physical appearance, commonly known as cosmetic surgery. Although the advancement of new technology and techniques may have created different methods for plastic surgery, the fact remains that plastic surgery is an old practice that began as far back as 600BC.

The First Plastic Surgeon

Sushruta is widely considered as the “Father of Plastic Surgery” as he was the first person to perform successful plastic surgery in around 600-1000BC. He was one of the most brilliant gems in the ancient medical field in India, and his literature Sushruta Samhita is considered as the most brilliant Indian medical literature.

The first-ever plastic surgery procedure was recorded to have been performed on the nose. This was also described in the Sushruta Samhita.  This literature was originally written in the Sanskrit language, which was later translated into English and other languages. The reconstruction of a nose in the medical literature grabbed everyone’s attention, and the advancements in surgical techniques have not stopped since.  The type of plastic surgery carried out by Sushruta would most likely have been classified as a “reconstructive” procedure.   The medical term for this popular surgery, as mentioned in his literature, is rhinoplasty.

In regards to the Western world:

  • Joseph Constantine Carpus, an English Surgeon, spent 20 years studying the Indian plastic surgery method and finally succeeded in performing the first plastic surgery documented in the western world.
  • In America, the first person who was able to perform successful plastic surgery was John Peter Mettauer in 1827. He performed the first cleft palate operations with equipment he had designed on his own.
  • The Romans were also documented to have performed cosmetic plastic surgery. Considering that the Romans are highly attached to their religion and religious beliefs, which does not allow them to dissect either human beings or animals, they were only able to perform simple procedures.

Modern Plastic Surgery

The well-known otolaryngologist from New Zealand, Sir Harold Gillies, is considered the father of modern plastic surgery, and many of the modern techniques used in today’s plastic surgery procedures were invented by him.

This “modern” approach to plastic surgery had its beginning in World War 1.  There were two famous plastic surgeons, Archibald McIndoe and Harold Gillies, who used their new techniques to treat those severely damaged by burns during the war. They also invented and refined the pioneering skin grafting techniques such as the tuned pedicled graft.

These new procedures that were developed were totally different from the earlier surgical process because they depended entirely on the growth and development of blood supply from the recipient bed into the grafted tissue over many weeks. As you can imagine, the need for these types of innovations in the field of surgery were greatly needed during the time of WW1.  Archibald McIndoe and Harold Gillies were not only recognized for the technique they discovered but also for recognizing the importance of rehabilitation for soldiers and their social reintegration back to normal life.

Walter Yeo, a British sailor during World War 1, is considered to be the first person that benefitted from modern plastic surgery. It was during this time that many advancements were made in the field of plastic surgery.  For this major achievement, Harold Gilles was highly decorated and even received a knighthood for his advancements in the field of medicine and surgery.


Plastic surgery has had a vast amount of innovation and purpose over the years since its first inception.  This specialty has been at the forefront of giving individuals back their physical appearance and restoring their confidence and self-esteem.  We are proud to be part of this amazing medical specialty and admire all of our colleagues, both past and present, for helping individuals become whole again.