Cosmetic Surgery and Medical Malpractice

Find out what cosmetic surgery is, the most popular cosmetic surgery procedures, the kinds of errors that can happen, and some of the things to watch out for in a cosmetic surgery malpractice case.

By , Attorney · University of Maryland School of Law
Updated by Dan Ray, Attorney · University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law

If you've thought about having cosmetic surgery, you're not alone. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, there were nearly 1.5 million cosmetic surgeries done in 2022. So-called "noninvasive" or "minimally invasive" procedures were in even greater demand, with more than 23.6 million completed that year.

Cosmetic procedures are generally considered to be routine, so much so that many are done in a doctor's office or an outpatient surgery center. This relaxed, low-key approach makes it easy to forget that cosmetic surgery can involve risks, some of them quite serious.

We'll explain what cosmetic surgery is and describe some of the most popular cosmetic procedures. After a quick review of medical malpractice generally, we'll explore the risks of cosmetic surgery, including the kinds of errors that can give rise to a malpractice claim.

What is a Cosmetic Procedure?

A cosmetic procedure is an elective surgical or nonsurgical procedure that's done solely or primarily to improve the patient's physical appearance. Cosmetic procedures include traditional cosmetic surgery, along with an increasing number of noninvasive or minimally invasive procedures like dermabrasion, injections, and fillers that offer temporary improvements in appearance without the expense or inconvenience of cosmetic surgery.

Cosmetic surgery, a subset of plastic surgery, shouldn't be confused with a second subset of plastic surgery called reconstructive surgery. Reconstructive surgery is concerned with repairing damage or defects of the face and body brought on by injury, illness, or genetics. While reconstructive surgery often restores form, the primary concern is usually restoration of normal or useful function.

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