Plastic surgery includes two broad fields, namely cosmetic (or aesthetic) and reconstructive surgery. Cosmetic surgery is performed to enhance the appearance of a person, who finds his/her body parts, though otherwise fully functional, to be unattractive. Thus cosmetic surgery is performed with a purely aesthetic intent. On the other hand, reconstructive surgery focuses on concealing the destructive effects of trauma, disease or accident. That is, it strives to improve function and impart a standard look so the patient may lead a normal life.

Reconstructive surgery is a way of veiling defects by using skin implants and tissue flaps. Either local tissue is used or tissue is transferred from another part to the problem area. Reconstructive tissue flaps comprise of skin, muscle, fat, bone or a combination of these elements. The most common reconstructive surgery is to cover the defects of burn survivors and other accident victims.

Another common reconstructive surgery is breast reconstruction for women who have had mastectomy – surgical removal of one or both breasts, either partially or completely. Mastectomy is performed to combat breast cancer, or to circumvent the disease if a woman is at a high risk of acquiring it. Rhinoplasty may also be considered as a reconstructive procedure if the extent of damage to the nose cartilage and bone is rather grave. In such a case, tissue is moved from another body part and grafted in the damaged area.

One of the most prevalent uses of reconstructive surgery can be found in the field of professional contact sports. Players are likely to suffer injuries during vigorous contact sports, and such injuries can only be treated by reconstructive surgery. Though rare, sexual reassignment surgery is another example of reconstructive surgery. There is a certain gray area between cosmetic and reconstructive surgery, and distinguishing one from another can be confusing at times. But in a gist, reconstructive surgery is usually performed to correct an abnormality, and not to enhance an otherwise normal appearance.