Let’s face it, we’ve all looked in the mirror and wished for a tweak here or there. Maybe it’s stubborn belly fat after having kids, or wrinkles creeping in a bit earlier than you’d like. If you’re considering cosmetic surgery to address these concerns, you’re certainly not alone. In fact, according to the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS), just under 26,000 cosmetic procedures were carried out in the UK in 2023 alone.

But with so many clinics and surgeons out there, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. One of the first things you’ll likely encounter is the difference between a consultant plastic surgeon and a cosmetic surgeon. Don’t worry, you’re not expected to be a medical expert! This blog will break down the key distinctions to empower you to make an informed decision for your cosmetic journey.

The Basics: Consultant Plastic Surgeon vs. Cosmetic Surgeon

Consultant Plastic Surgeon: A consultant plastic surgeon in the UK is a highly trained medical professional specialising in reconstructive and aesthetic (cosmetic) surgery. They are listed on the General Medical Council (GMC) Specialist Register for plastic surgery, signifying extensive training and certification. Their expertise covers a broad spectrum, including reconstructive surgeries for trauma, congenital abnormalities, cancer reconstructions, and aesthetic procedures.

Cosmetic Surgeon: Unlike consultant plastic surgeons, the title “cosmetic surgeon” is not a recognised medical speciality in the UK. Any doctor with a basic medical degree can call themselves a cosmetic surgeon, regardless of their training in surgical procedures. This title often leads to confusion and potential risks for patients seeking aesthetic enhancements.


Training and Qualifications

Consultant Plastic Surgeon: Achieving the status of a consultant plastic surgeon requires years of rigorous training. After completing medical school (5-6 years), a doctor undergoes at least two years of foundational surgical training, followed by competitive entry into a plastic surgery training program, which lasts a minimum of six years. Additionally, they must pass the Fellowship of the Royal Colleges of Surgeons (FRCS) exams, ensuring they meet the highest standards of surgical competence.

Cosmetic Surgeon: Cosmetic surgeons have varying levels of training. While some may possess extensive experience and additional qualifications in cosmetic procedures, others might lack specialised training. This inconsistency makes it crucial for potential patients to thoroughly research their chosen practitioner’s background and qualifications.

Scope of Practice

Consultant Plastic Surgeon: The comprehensive training of consultant plastic surgeons equips them to perform a wide range of procedures, including:

  • Reconstructive Surgeries: Breast reconstruction post-mastectomy, cleft lip and palate repair, hand surgery, and skin cancer removal.
  • Aesthetic Surgeries: Breast augmentation, rhinoplasty (nose reshaping), facelifts, liposuction, and tummy tucks.

Cosmetic Surgeon: Cosmetic surgeons typically focus on aesthetic procedures. Their scope includes but is not limited to:

  • Non-Surgical Treatments: Botox, fillers, and other minimally invasive procedures.
  • Surgical Procedures: Breast enhancements, liposuction, facelifts, and tummy tucks.

Regulatory Bodies and Accreditation

Consultant Plastic Surgeon: These professionals must be registered with the GMC and listed on the Specialist Register for plastic surgery. Many also belong to esteemed professional bodies such as the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS) and the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS). These affiliations ensure adherence to stringent ethical standards and continuous professional development.

Cosmetic Surgeon: While cosmetic surgeons must also be registered with the GMC, they do not need to be on the Specialist Register for plastic surgery. Membership in professional bodies such as the British College of Aesthetic Medicine (BCAM) can indicate a commitment to maintaining standards, but the level of oversight and regulation is not as stringent as that for consultant plastic surgeons.

Making an Informed Decision: Choosing the right surgeon for you

While cosmetic surgery can be life-changing, it’s important to remember it’s still surgery.

Consultant plastic surgeons, with their broad skill set and in-depth training, are well-equipped to handle potential complications that might arise during or after surgery. Their experience in reconstructive surgery makes them particularly adept at minimising scarring and achieving the best possible aesthetic outcomes. 

In direct contrast to this cosmetic surgeons may have specialised training for the equipment that use, but more often than not they do not have the broad spectrum of surgical training, variety of surgical techniques and experience that comes with being a consultant plastic surgeon.  Remember the saying by Maslow, “if the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail”, we’ve all seen the horror stories in the press.

If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail. Maslow

Once you’ve decided on a consultant plastic surgeon, research reputable clinics in your area. Look for surgeons affiliated with BAAPS or the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) as they adhere to strict ethical guidelines.

During your consultation, don’t hesitate to ask questions. Here are a few to get you started:

  1. Check Qualifications: Verify if the surgeon is on the GMC Specialist Register for plastic surgery.
  2. Ask About Experience: Enquire about the surgeon’s specific experience with the procedure you are considering; what are the risks and complications with this procedure? what is their complication rate with the procedure that you are considering? What will your post-operative care plan look like?
  3. Review Before and After Photos: Request to see examples of the surgeon’s previous work to gauge their skill and aesthetic style.
  4. Seek Patient Testimonials: Look for reviews or speak to past patients about their experiences.
  5. Consider Hospital Affiliations: Surgeons who operate in reputable hospitals or clinics often adhere to higher standards of care.  Surgeons who operate from hotels should be an immediate red flag for you.


Understanding the difference between a consultant plastic surgeon and a cosmetic surgeon is essential when considering cosmetic surgery in the UK. While both can perform aesthetic procedures, the training, qualifications, and regulatory oversight differ significantly. Ensuring your surgeon has the appropriate credentials and experience is vital for achieving the best possible outcome.

If you’re considering a procedure, take the time to research, ask questions, and choose a qualified professional. Your safety and satisfaction are paramount, and making an informed decision is the first step towards achieving the appearance you desire.

A bit about me & my background

Claire is a Functional Health Specialist at Restoring Balance; a Sports Scientist, and a Health Coach who is also a multi-disciplined therapist specialising in person-centred care for those going on a surgical journey.  

Claire’s work is very different to many therapists – working with you as a whole person using a unique approach.  Claire can help you with:

  • Pre-surgery planning and preparation
  • Understanding the changes your body has been through
  • Post-operative rehabilitation
  • Post-operative scar care
  • Manual Lymphatic Drainage
  • Improving your pelvic floor function
  • Increasing mobility, balance, stability, co-ordination
  • Calming your stress & anxiety
  • Improving your digestive health
  • Improving your emotional health
  • Helping you reconnect with yourself
  • Relieving pain

I work both online and in person from my home-based clinic on Hayling Island, Hampshire.

Ready to make a change? Book in for a Let’s Talk.

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