Then and Now: 10 Differences Between Cosmetic Surgery Beginnings and Today

From soccer moms to the celebrity elite, cosmetic surgery has stitched its way into the fabric of our society. While the discussions of cosmetic surgery have moved from secret backrooms to the forefront of social media conversations, its history and progression is one of the most interesting facets of society. The following 10 points discuss the cosmetic surgery throughout history.

Foundation of Modern Cosmetic Surgery

The Renaissance gave more than just beautiful works of art, but also advances in preventive and cosmetic surgery. It’s during this time techniques to correct cleft lips and even perform eyelid surgery were developed. During this time, surgeries were considered highly invasive due to the lack of modern tools and surgical techniques.

The First Breast Augmentation

In 2013, the top cosmetic surgery procedure in the United States was breast augmentation by either adding implants or removing excess breast tissue. While nearly 300,000 patients underwent the knife to alter the size and shape of their breasts, few know the roots of this procedure date back to a 15th Century Islamic manuscript. The text “Imperial Surgery” included a step-by-step process known as gynecomastia, which was later used as the foundation of breast augmentation procedures.

Facial Reconstruction

The notion of facial surgeries during ancient Roman civilization is baffling to some; however, a text written by Aulus Cornelius Celsus entitled “De Medicina” clearly describes surgical protocols for reconstructing facial features, such as the nose, lips and ears. However, the techniques and tools used were crude and researchers suggest, their results were often lackluster.

History of “The Nose Job”

The first medical document outlining a nose job, or rhinoplasty, comes from India in 500 BCE. This archaic technique reconstructed a nose by taking a flap of skin from the patient’s forehead and forming it into the shape of a nose. In fact, rhinoplasty is considered the oldest form of cosmetic surgery. Modern techniques no longer utilize the aforementioned technique, but rather correct nose malformations through advanced tissue and cartilage manipulation.

Breast Implants

The first successful breast implant was performed in 1895 when surgeons placed a tumor from the patients back into her breasts. Since its first introduction, beginning materials to enlarge breasts include rubber, ivory, animal cartilage and even glass balls; however, it wasn’t until the 1990s that modern saline implants were implemented.


Before anesthesia, patients were fully aware during an entire procedure. Therefore, the biggest skill of a surgeon was speed. In 1772, Joseph Priestley discovered the nitrous oxide; however, it wasn’t used in surgical procedures until 1845. Without an effective form of anesthesia, the progression of cosmetic surgery would have stalled. While original forms of anesthesia involved inhaling substances such as ether or chloroform, it wasn’t until the 1940s muscle relaxers, and intravenous anesthetics were introduced into the surgical realm.

Maxillofacial Surgery

In WWI, maxillofacial surgery began developing to help repair damaged jaws from soldiers. The father of this cosmetic surgery procedure is considered to be Harold Gillies, who worked with over 2,000 wounded WWI soldiers. Materials to help reconstruct faces were various forms of bone or metals. While similar to modern day techniques, current maxillofacial surgeries correct issues using high-tech, flexible materials.


Invented in 1974 by gynecologist, Dr. Giorgio Fischer, liposuction has become one of the top 5 cosmetic procedures in the United States. While original surgeries were strikingly similar to modern techniques, it wasn’t until 1985 that Dr. Patric Lillis and Dr. Jeffrey Klein invented the tumescent technique, which “sucks” fat out through a hollow tube.

Tummy Tucks

The first tummy tuck was performed in 1890 by Dr. Marx and Dr. Demars in France. The original procedure was quite harsh, as surgeons literally removed entire sections of abdomen tissue, including the belly button. Modern tummy tucks preserve the integrity of the abdomen by making precise, small incisions while tightening underlining muscles and smoothing leftover skin.


In the early 20th Century, surgeons began noticing that if portions of skin were removed around the ear, facial skin would tighten and produce a “younger” appearance. However, the first procedures were crude and often left patients with disfigured portions of the face. While face lift procedures became more detailed and advanced as the decades moved forward, it wasn’t until the beginning of the 21st Century that facelifts reached its true potential. Modern techniques produce 40 percent less scarring than in the past and this procedure is done under local anesthesia.