To Spite Your Face: A Brief History Of Cosmetic Surgery

Published November 3, 2014
Updated September 18, 2019

Such was the state of cosmetic surgery for centuries: strange medical devices and uncomfortable treatments. Radical change in elective surgery wouldn’t come until World War I, which saw chemical bombs and skin-burning mustard gases. New weaponry meant new, more violent and difficult-to-treat wounds. The best at this kind of conflict-inspired plastic surgery, and perhaps the most important name in cosmetic surgery was Sir Harold Gilles, a New Zealand-born WWI physician. He was the absolute pioneer of several techniques involving the skin graft and the pedicle, a closed tube of attached skin that is grown for use elsewhere on the body.

Cosmetic Surgery History

Suzanne Noël Performing Cosmetic Surgery. Source: Soroptimist

Gilles used this pedicle technique to perform revolutionary surgeries on men injured during The Great War, like Mr. Walter Yeo (pictured above).

Facial rejuvenation techniques had been practiced in Europe since the early 20th century by European physicians like Eügen Hollander and Suzanne Noël, but the techniques invented by Sushruta and perfected by Gilles allowed for cosmetic surgery to become the popular, simple procedures that so many rely on to bring them confidence and a sense of beauty, no matter how gruesome the cost:

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Chris Altman
Chris Altman is a freelancing writer and artist based out of Brooklyn, NY.
Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.
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Altman, Chris. "To Spite Your Face: A Brief History Of Cosmetic Surgery.", November 3, 2014, Accessed June 25, 2024.