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Cosmetic Doctor, Dermatologist, Cosmetic Surgeon, Plastic Surgeon – what’s the difference? 

Cosmetic Doctor, Dermatologist, Cosmetic Surgeon, Plastic Surgeon – what’s the difference? 
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It can get confusing when determining who is what regarding qualifications in cosmetic treatments. So let’s clear a few things up! 

You’ll see a few common terms around the internet, but it’s important to check the website’s location. A lot of cosmetic content comes from the US, where the designations of doctors are different to those in Australia, though they are similar. If you’re looking at an Australian website and want to clarify who will be performing your treatments, here’s the brief. 

Note: All medical doctors who work in the cosmetic field can be called cosmetic physicians. A physician is another word for a medical doctor. 

What is a cosmetic doctor?

A cosmetic doctor is a general practitioner (GP), a medical doctor who specialises in cosmetic treatments. A cosmetic doctor isn’t a dermatologist, and any doctor could call themselves a cosmetic doctor. ‘Cosmetic doctor’ is not an official designation, though it clearly explains this doctor’s field. 

A cosmetic doctor might perform anti-wrinkle and dermal filler injections, laser, radiofrequency and other high-tech treatments while also being able to help patients with other health concerns. A cosmetic doctor has a standard medical licence. 

What is a dermatologist?

A dermatologist is a specialised medical doctor who goes above and beyond their standard medical training and licences to hone one specific area of medicine: the skin, hair and nails, also known as dermatology. A dermatologist has a deep understanding of skin diseases but may not necessarily specialise in cosmetic treatments. They take on extra years of study to achieve their specialist dermatology qualification. 

A dermatologist may have a particular interest in their chosen field (i.e., skin cancer, eczema, acne, etc.) from a medical perspective; however, they may also be interested and experienced in the cosmetic side of skin nails, etc. hair.  Thus, the cosmetic dermatologist is born. 

Dermatologists can do surgery, though the extent of the surgery will depend on their interests. Many minor dermatological surgeries include removing moles or skin lesions, with more extensive surgeries including liposuction. 

Not all dermatologists are created equal, so if you’re looking for cosmetic expertise, you seek a cosmetic dermatologist such as those at ENRICH Clinic in Melbourne. 

What is a cosmetic dermatologist? 

Like the cosmetic doctor, the cosmetic dermatologist is a dermatology graduate interested in aesthetics (how we look). A cosmetic dermatologist works with patients to improve the look, shape and feel of the skin and body, for example, treating unwanted fatty deposits, sagging skin, wrinkles, or cellulite. 

A cosmetic dermatologist works with patients affected by specific skin and medical conditions and scars. For example, a great deal of experience working with lasers means a cosmetic dermatologist is well-placed to administer the same treatment to those with scaring.

The tools of the cosmetic dermatologist cross many divides in medicine, alongside colleagues who work in reconstructive medicine (the plastic surgeon). The dermatologist vs plastic surgeon compares two separate (but related) medical disciplines, one focused solely on surgical procedures and the other on the skin. 

What is a plastic surgeon?

A plastic surgeon is a recognised medical designation, part of the specialty area of surgery. Like the cosmetic dermatologist, a plastic surgeon is a medical doctor who goes above and beyond the standard medical training to become a surgeon. Other recognised surgeons include a neurosurgeon (brain) or a vascular surgeon (veins). 

Plastic surgeons work in what’s known as reconstructive or plastic surgery. Reconstructive surgery is all about repairing and reconfiguring after surgery or an accident, restoring the look and behaviour of a body part (form and function). 

‘Plastic’ has often been subbed in for ‘superficial’ when discussing cosmetic or ‘plastic’ surgery – in the sense that plastic is cheap, fake and shiny, like a Barbie Doll. You would be forgiven for thinking that plastic surgery was a colloquial term with its reputation for Hollywood-Barbie Doll aspirations. But, it’s not – ‘plastic’ is a medical word that existed long before plastic. 

The word plastic comes from the Greek word ‘plastikos’ and means to grow or form. The substance plastic (of plastic water bottle infamy) as we know it was only invented in the early 1900s and was given its name due to its ability to be formed or moulded. You can make just about anything out of plastic, and thus a plastic surgeon moulds and forms the human body. 

Great examples of reconstructive or plastic surgery include creating a new breast after a mastectomy, rebuilding facial features after a severe car accident, or repairing a cleft palate as a child. 

A plastic surgeon may also work solely in aesthetics, such as breast implants, tummy tucks or facelifts. When surgery is for aesthetics only (form, not function), it is considered cosmetic surgery rather than reconstructive surgery.

What is a cosmetic surgeon?

A cosmetic surgeon is, by contrast, a regular doctor who performs some surgeries. Not all surgeries can be performed by all medical doctors; for example, you wouldn’t want your GP or dermatologist to perform open-heart surgery, much like you wouldn’t want your cardiothoracic surgeon giving you anti-wrinkle injections. 

All doctors learn surgery as part of medical training, and you undergo surgery when you have a mole or wart removed, receive laser treatments, or have liposuction. 

Therefore, the definition of cosmetic surgery vs plastic surgery is a little clearer – plastic surgery is reconstructive surgery to modify form and function, while cosmetic surgery is to correct form only. There can be a crossover, but that’s the overall concept. 

The medical board guidelines

The Australian Medical Board has a set of guidelines for what they classify as a medical or surgical operation or procedure and if that is cosmetic. The Medical Board’s official guidelines for doctors who perform cosmetic medical and surgical procedures says: 

Cosmetic medical and surgical procedures are operations and other procedures that revise or change the appearance, colour, texture, structure or position of normal bodily features with the dominant purpose of achieving what the patient perceives to be a more desirable appearance or boosting the patient’s self-esteem.

Meanwhile, it says that a major cosmetic medical or surgical procedure – cosmetic surgery – involves cutting beneath the skin, such as breast augmentation, rhinoplasty, surgical facelifts and liposuction. 

Minor cosmetic procedures are not considered surgery and do not involve cutting beneath the skin but can involve piercing the skin, for example, varicose vein treatments and laser treatments.

Skin treatments include CO2 lasers, mole removal, laser hair removal, dermabrasion, chemical peels, injections, sclerotherapy and hair replacement therapy. Since they only change the appearance of an area of the body, these procedures are usually not considered ‘medically necessary’ and are usually not covered under Medicare. If your doctor considers your treatments medically justified, they fall outside the cosmetic umbrella. 

Who are the doctors at ENRICH Clinic (Melbourne)?

Our clinic has a collection of qualified, experienced dermatologists, cosmetic dermatologists,& cosmetic doctors. Dr Michael Rich performs cosmetic surgeries; for example, Dr Rich is a liposuction specialist, training under Dr Jeffrey Klein, the inventor of the gold standard tumescent liposuction technique.

Our cosmetic dermatologists are highly trained and specialised in aesthetic medicine, so you know when you visit our clinic, you get the very best in care from the best in the business. 

Get in touch to make an appointment! 

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