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The constantly changing face of cosmetic surgery


If you’re contemplating cosmetic surgery but are concerned about possible risks, it’s reassuring to know that all the procedures offered by the Edinburgh Clinic are in the safe hands of experts approved by the General Medical Council and specialist consultants accredited by either the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) or the British Association of Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS).

There are many ways we can help if you feel the need to seek remedial cosmetic surgery, ranging from anti-wrinkle injections, scar revision, ear reshaping and breast uplift surgery to the removal of moles, cysts, benign tumours and skin tags.

Advances in professional cosmetic surgery are today having a positive impact on the lives of people from all walks of life – but where did it all start?  Far from being a purely modern phenomenon, the story goes a long, long way back…

Resurrecting the dead

The principles of plastic surgery were first put into practice by the ancient Egyptians but not, it would appear from close study of the papyrus record, for the benefit of the living.  Instead, early versions of procedures that we would recognise today such as body implants were used as an essential part of the mummification process to maintain the earthly appearance of dead kings, queens and other high nobles so they would remain easily recognisable in the after-life.

The first nose job

The cosmetic surgery staple of nose reconstruction – known today as rhinoplasty – was pioneered by the Indian surgeon Sushruta around 600BC.  His method involved cutting a flap of skin from the patient’s cheek or forehead, then sewing it on to the damaged nose.  This technique remained a closely guarded secret on the sub-continent for centuries until 1794 when British army surgeons witnessed an Indian bricklayer use it to replace the cut-off nose of one of their soldiers.  Amazed, they brought this primitive but effective procedure back to Europe and the rest, as the saying goes, is history…

The body beautiful in ancient Rome

The Roman obsession with physical perfection around the 1st century BC was probably inspired by the mass nudity that revealed any bodily abnormality to all with the increasing popularity of public baths.  The most popular procedures offered by the cosmetic surgeons of their day included circumcision reversal and even breast reduction to improve the appearance of particularly obese men.

The 19th century

Our history of cosmetic surgery now has to skip forward several centuries as nothing of any real note happened during the Middle Ages and post-Renaissance periods.  This was mainly because of the overpowering influence of religion and the belief that physical deformity was the will of God, meaning that any attempt to provide remedial treatment was condemned as magic, witchcraft or, worse still, downright heresy.  The brave exception was the 16th century Italian physician Gasparo Tagliacozzi who produced the first textbook describing plastic surgery techniques including his own speciality of taking grafts of skin and tissue, usually from the patient’s upper arm, to cover wounds elsewhere on the body.

However, the more enlightened environment of the 19th century saw major advances such as the first cleft palate operation in 1827, the first use of ‘free-bone’ grafting to reconstruct a nose in 1889 and the earliest known breast enhancement procedure performed in 1895.

War and peace

The First World War witnessed a tremendous acceleration in reconstructive plastic surgery due to the unprecedented nature of the facial injuries suffered by soldiers in the trenches such as gaping skull wounds, shattered jaws and blown-off noses.  On the British side, this work was pioneered by Major Harold Delf Gillies, dubbed ‘the father of modern plastic surgery’.  He founded the world’s first hospital dedicated exclusively to reconstructive surgery and the techniques he developed there provided a blueprint for many of the advanced procedures in use today, including transgender surgery.

World War Two not only pushed the boundaries of possibility in plastic surgery, but the numbers of specialist surgeons needed on the battlefield to practice it.  These were the surgeons who went on to make cosmetic surgery available to a prosperous, peacetime generation in the ‘50s and ‘60s who could clearly see the effects of cosmetic treatments on their favourite movie and TV stars and wanted the same benefits for themselves – whatever the cost and whatever, in those early days, the risks.

Today, professional cosmetic surgery as practiced at the Edinburgh Clinic is safe and easily accessible to all.  But what does the future hold?   With research already being carried out on long lasting dermal fillers, lasers that can re-energise the skin and even body rejuvenation through cloning, only time will tell.

To find out more about the cosmetic treatments offered by the Edinburgh Clinic, go to


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