Plastic Surgeon Vs. Facial Plastic Surgeon: is There a Difference?

amazed when told by a friend that a plastic surgeon is not the same as a facial plastic surgeon. i always thought facial plastic surgeons do plastic surgery of the face like facelifts, and that they are plastic surgeons that specialize in the face procedures.  plz help me understand the differences, if any!

**Note from RealSelf**  This question is closed to new answers. Our site is designed to help consumers make confident choices and the below answers have lost this spirit. To see the criteria RealSelf uses to list a doctor as a Facial Plastic Surgeon, please visit our Professional Policies.  Doctors listed as a 'Facial Plastic Surgeon' on RealSelf are eligible to provide expert answers regarding "neck-up" procedures, including those of the face, ear, nose and throat areas.  As always, consumers should do their due-diligence in researching an individual doctors experience and credentials when choosing their surgeon.


Doctor Answers 18

Differences between facial plastic surgeon and plastic surgeon

I am a Facial Plastic Surgeon and proud to be so. Obviously, my perspective is biased based on my training, a training devoted to the face and neck.

However, I think there are several observations a prospective patient should consider in making their decision.

The Individual Surgeon:
I can assure you that if you are seeing a Facial Plastic Surgeon or General Plastic Surgeon, there is a high probability you are seeing a surgeon who has excelled academically and clinically in Medical School, Residency, and post-residency training. Both specialties have a very high percentage of Alpha Omega Alpha graduates, and both specialties are highly sought after as residencies, and therefore highly competitive. These attributes definitely don't assure good technical skill or an artistic/aesthetic sensibility, but they are a good start.

The Specialty:
Both Facial Plastic Surgery, and General Plastic Surgery have legitimate claims, as specialties, to providing expertise toward cosmetic and reconstructive procedures of the face. As other posters have correctly stated, the individual surgeon may have been in a residency program where there was minimal or major emphasis on facial anatomy, surgery, or pathology. Learning technical and judgmental skills in surgery is not a one step process; it requires careful study and consideration and an ability to apply a three dimensional approach, understanding that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The failed Rhinoplasties/Facelifts of countless Hollywood celebrities provide proof that these concepts can be difficult to learn. Facial Plastic Surgeons obtain training in cosmetic surgery both in their residency training and in their fellowship training; this training is exclusive to facial procedures, and does not involve training in breast, body, hand or genital surgery, like General Plastic Surgeons.  Facial Plastic Surgery is recognized as a surgical subspecilaty by the AMA and the American Board of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery is considered ABMS equivalent in Florida and throughout the United States.  The American Public believes in specialization; in facial surgery, it makes sense to see a Facial Plastic Surgeon or a Plastic Surgeon who specializes in faces.

The Consultation:
I would encourage prospective patients to use their eyes and their intuition to judge if a surgeon will be able to meet their needs. Seeing a number of surgeons is the best way to do this. Let the surgeon impress you with his/her positive qualities; any surgeon who uses as much effort in putting other surgeons/specialties as emphasizing their own attributes is deserving of wariness. In my experience, the best surgeons I have worked/trained with are true gentlemen (women) and don't need to waste their time with "trash talking".

The History:
Facial Plastic Surgery and General Plastic Surgery have a long history of sniping and turf battle issues. Both sides feel passionately about their strengths and expertise. I have worked with excellent Facial Plastic Surgeons and excellent General Plastic Surgeons, and I have seen the disasters of the less gifted of each specialty. The Bell Curve applies to every specialty.

Seek a number of opinions, listen to word of mouth, and go with your intuition.

Fort Myers Facial Plastic Surgeon
4.8 out of 5 stars 95 reviews

What is the Difference Between General Plastic and Facial Plastic Surgeons? ...Clothing

Hi Sonya,

General plastic surgeons are trained with 5 years of general surgery followed by 2-3 years of general plastic surgery including the face, neck, chest, breasts, arms, hands, legs, feet, burns). General plastic surgeons are qualified to perform all plastic surgical procedures.

Facial plastic surgeons usually are trained with 1-2 years of general surgery, then 3-4 years of head and neck surgery (also known as ear, nose, and throat surgery, including facial plastic and reconstructive surgery), followed by an optional year of facial plastic surgery fellowship. Facial plastic surgeons are qualified to perform plastic surgical procedures from the neck up (rhinoplasty, eye lid surgery, face lift, etc.)

Both specialties have surgeons with variable skills, most are exceptional, some average, and unfortunately like everything else in life, a few are below average. The major difference between general plastic surgery (total body), and facial plastic surgery is that clothing cannot be used to cover poor post operative surgical results on the face. Whether performed by general plastic or facial plastic surgeons, when operating upon the face, the surgeon must be meticulous, experienced, skilled, and have an excellent sense of natural beauty and aesthetics. An unsatisfactory scar, nose, or eye lid cannot be covered up with clothing.

Whether choosing a general plastic or facial plastic surgeon, patients must choose their surgeon most carefully. Good luck and be well.

Dr. P

Michael A. Persky, MD
Encino Facial Plastic Surgeon
4.8 out of 5 stars 36 reviews

It is very simple

1) A plastic surgeon is a plastic surgeon

2) A Facial Plastic Surgeon is a Facial Plastic Surgeon

These are 2 completely different specialties with totally different training backgrounds.

A) Facial Plastic surgeons are usually ENT surgeons who went above and beyond and did one more year of training ONLY on the face and neck.  That is 6 years EXCLUSIVELY on the face and neck.

B) Plastic surgeons are either general surgeons who spent 5 years operating inside the abdomen taking out gall bladders and fixing hernias then they spent 2 more years learning plastic surgery of THE ENTIRE body from head to toe.  Or they did a combined program where they did 3 years of general surgery then 3 years of plastic surgery of the entire body.  That includes burn, hands, free flaps, body surgery and face surgery. 

Both of these specialists are "certified" by the ABMS or given equivalency to the ABMS to perform plastic surgery of the face and neck but only the plastic surgeons are certified to perform body plastic surgery.

It is THAT simple.  

The nastiness and bitter words and mudslinging you see by a few ignorant plastic surgeons is just that.  The vast majority of plastic surgeons and facial plastic surgeons are very cordial and work together.  For my practice I have about 6-8 plastic surgeons who defer nosejobs to me and send me their patients who want rhinoplasty and in turn if a patient wants a breast augmentation at the same time as their nose job then we work together (Facial Plastics with Plastics).  There is no bitter rivalry at all.

Know the facts and stay away from people who try to bad mouth others.  

Both specialties have excellent surgeons and both have very lousy surgeons.  Do your homework.

As far as the plastic surgeons on here who keep trying to insult facial plastic surgeons and call us ENTs: Just remember, Michael Jackson's nose and face surgeries were all done by a VERY famous and esteemed Plastic Surgeon! 

Shervin Naderi, MD, FACS
Washington DC Facial Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 107 reviews

Plastic surgeons, Facial plastic surgeons, Cosmetic surgeons

Plastic surgeons are trained in Plastic surgery. Facial Plastic Surgeons are trained in ENT. Both are trained to work on the face.

There are simply two different surgical pathways to get there. One is through Plastic Surgery training, leading to "Board Certified in Plastic Surgery," the other through ENT, leading to "Board Certified in Facial Plastic Surgery".

There are fine individuals in both camps. Both have done surgical residencies.

This is very different from a "cosmetic surgeon", a term that does not require any surgical residency, and no certification by any Board.

Brent Moelleken, MD
Beverly Hills Plastic Surgeon
4.9 out of 5 stars 178 reviews

Lumpers and Splitters

Cosmetic Surgery of the Face is practiced by a variety of individuals. In the present free-market environment, this may include not only the "traditional" specialties of Plastic Surgery, ENT, and Ophthalmology, but also Dermatology, Oral Surgery, and even Dentistry. The burden of determining the proper level of credentialing has unfortunately fallen to the patient, who all too often may succumb to slick marketing, or may simply fail to do her homework in investigating the qualifications of the surgeon.

"General" Plastic Surgeons and "Facial" Plastic Surgeons are well-versed in the anatomy and techniques involved in cosmetic surgery of the face, which is a core component of the background training for both of these surgical specialties. Facial Plastic Surgeons generally confine their scope of practice to cosmetic surgery of the head and neck only, and are most likely NOT qualified to perform Breast Augmentation, Tummy Tucks, and Liposuction as a core part of their training. "General" Plastic Surgeons scope of practice includes cosmetic and reconstructive procedures on the head and neck, breast, and body.

A good rule of thumb when checking the qualifications of your surgeon is to inquire (in addition to Board Certification by a Board recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS)) if the surgeon has privileges to perform the procedure in question in a local hospital. Generally, this would weed out the Dermatologists, Dentists, Gynecologists, and Oral Surgeons from performing most facial cosmetic procedures and all cosmetic surgery of the body.

Do your homework, and check the qualifications of your surgeon.

Athleo Louis Cambre, MD
Los Angeles Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 6 reviews

Who’s the facial cosmetic king on the mountain? It is all about one’s training and experience!

Who’s the facial cosmetic king on the mountain? It is all about one’s training and experience! What a great question. So, what is the difference between a facial plastic surgeon and a plastic surgeon? Or, using your example, which is better qualified to perform a facelift? As a consumer, it is confusing to sort this out. However, the answer is simple. It is all about the physician’s training and experience! Both a plastic surgeon and a facial plastic surgeon have gone through extensive education and training to get where they are today. Even though I’m a board certified plastic surgeon, I know and respect many facial plastic surgeons in my community who do great work in field of facial cosmetic surgery. Likewise, most plastic surgeons are experts in the field of facial cosmetic plastic surgery. The biggest distinction is that plastic surgeons are trained in areas beyond the face in the fields of cosmetic surgery and reconstruction. So there is obvious crossover in the area of the face.

So who is better qualified to do your surgery? Let’s keep this practical as possible; it is about the individual surgeon. Do your homework and thoroughly check into his/her background. Specifically:

  • Find out where he/she went to medical school, residency training, and fellowship training.
  • Confirm that she/he is board certified and by what organization. Investigate that organization-- unfortunately, there are bogus boards out there whose qualifications for membership are shoddy. The board for a plastic surgeon is the American Board of Plastic Surgery and the corresponding board for a facial plastic surgeon is the American Academy of Facial Plastic Surgery.
  • Find out about the surgeon’s professional experience by asking about his reputation, how many years he’s been in practice, and whether he’s had any medical malpractice suits.
  • Check into state medical board records to discover if there is a history of any complaints, etc.
  • Find out about the actual experience of the surgeon and his/her clinical skills for the specific cosmetic procedure(s) that you are interested in. How many procedures has he performed and over what period of time?
  • Look at before and after photographs and see if you can talk to present or former patients who have undergone this operation.
In summary, it is my opinion that it is definitely not about politics but confidence in your cosmetic surgeon… be it a plastic surgeon or facial plastic surgeon. Thanks for your question. Stephen A. Goldstein, MD

Stephen A. Goldstein, MD
Englewood Plastic Surgeon

The terms are confusing to many patients

A "Plastic Surgeon" who is Board Certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery has extensive training in all aspects of plastic surgery, from aesthetic to burns to cancer reconstruction to pediatric. The minimum length of post medical school training to become Board Certified in Plastic Surgery is 6 years of formal surgical residency but many have done several more years of training than just the basic 6.

"Facial Plastic Surgeons" derive their name from typically being trained in Otolaryngology (ENT), not because they are the "experts" on facial plastic surgery as compared to plastic surgeons. This becomes very confusing to patients.

Since there are excellent surgeons in both camps, you still need to research the surgeon and study their results carefully to determine if that is the right doctor for you. But realize that the two groups do not share the same training and that most of the major innovations in the field of plastic surgery of the face have come from Board Certified Plastic Surgeons.

Richard P. Rand, MD, FACS
Seattle Plastic Surgeon
4.8 out of 5 stars 67 reviews

Jacques Joseph was a facial plastic surgeon

Jacques Joseph was in fact a facial plastic surgeon and indeed is considered the father of rhinoplasty surgery and other facial plastic surgery procedures. In fact, he originally trained in orthopedic surgery and then went on to excel in facial plastic surgery.

He eventually directed the Department of Facial Reconstruction at the Charité Ear and Nose Clinic in 1916. Considered at the time as the world’s best rhinoplasty surgeon, he taught other famous surgeons, including: Gustave Aufricht, MD, Joseph Safian, MD; Samuel Fomon, MD, Jacques Maliniac, MD, and John Maurice Converse, MD.

Please see the following reference:
Jacques Joseph. Father of Modern Facial Plastic Surgery Hans Behrbohm, MD; Walter Briedigkeit, MD; Oliver Kaschke, MD Arch Facial Plast Surg. 2008;10(5):300-303.

Min S. Ahn, MD, FACS
Westborough Facial Plastic Surgeon
4.6 out of 5 stars 35 reviews

The difference is the route of training

There is a difference between facial plastic surgeons and plastic surgeons though both can be very good at facial cosmetic and reconstructive procedures. Plastic surgeons go through a 3 to 5 year program in general surgery then spend 2 years in a plastic surgery residency. Facial plastic surgeons can be plastic surgeons who have done an additional year of fellowship in just cosmetic and reconstructive surgery of the head and neck. More commonly, facial plastic surgeons have undergone one year of general surgery residency followed by 4-5 years of head and neck surgery residency followed by an additional year of fellowship training in cosmetic and reconstructive surgery of the head and neck only. Facial plastic surgeons concentrate of the head and neck area only while a plastic surgeon will perform procedures of the head and neck as well as the rest of the body. For a more thorough understanding of the differences between the two professions, visit the American Academy of Facial Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery website at the link below.

D.J. Verret, MD
Dallas Facial Plastic Surgeon
3.9 out of 5 stars 14 reviews

Do your research, and choose a surgeon with experience

The difference is in 2 main aspects:

1. Training - Plastic Surgery is a sub-specialty of General Surgery where as Facial Plastic Surgery is a sub-specialty of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery (commonly known as ENT).  Plastic Surgeons train in all body surgery which includes the face whereas Facial Plastic Surgeons train only in the face, head, and neck surgery.

2. Focus of practice - Facial Plastic Surgeons - obviously as the name describes - limit their surgical practice to procedures on the face.  Therefore, experienced surgeons in this field most likely will have performed more facial surgery - and likewise will have more experience - than general plastic surgeons who work on the entire body.  

That being said, there are great surgeons in both fields - your decision should be based on your meeting with your surgeon, and your opinions of their outcomes as evidenced by their before and after results.  Good surgeons should be honest and forthcoming with photos, and be able to provide you with references from previous patients.  In my opinion, there are certain procedures where you should choose with particular care - such as Rhinoplasty or more complex breast surgery.  In these areas, you should seek surgeons with experience and excellent and proven before and after results.

Sam Naficy, MD, FACS
Seattle Facial Plastic Surgeon
4.7 out of 5 stars 221 reviews

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.