di Maria Serena Patriarca

The desire to look young and beautiful? It is lost in the mists of time, and cosmetic surgery has 3000 years of history behind it. This is what emerges from a study published in Harper’s Bazaar, the prestigious international fashion magazine, which goes back over the centuries, indeed, over the millennia, to understand the remote origins of the “retouching” so in vogue in society of our day.

The term plastic surgery derives from the Greek Plastikos , which means “mold” or even “to give shape to something”: its roots seem to have more curative than aesthetic origins, actually.

The ancestral and rudimentary secrets of cosmetic surgery are handed down, according to various scholars, in a medical text of the ancient Egyptians called Edwin Smith Papyrus . Probably conceived as a text on surgery for trauma, it contains cutting-edge diagnoses and studies, important for understanding how the Egyptians treated bone wounds and fractures. In addition to this, the Papyrus explains how to heal nasal wounds, manipulating the nose into the desired position before resorting to wooden splints, linen plugs and tampons (to keep it in place).

But there are those who believe – instead – that the origins of the interventions aimed at the beauty effect are not to be found in Egypt, but in India. According to the scholar Justin Yousef, who published a special study in the European Journal of Plastic Surgery , in fact, it is in India that the earliest historical hints of nasal reconstruction are found. “In the 6th century BC, doctors in India performed procedures very similar to modern day rhinoplasty. A detailed text has been found, entitled Sushruta Samhita , in which the Indian doctor Sushruta – known as the father of plastic surgery – explains an extraordinarily advanced technique for creating flaps of skin. It seems that the reasons that prompted patients to change the shape of their nose were actually more aesthetic than curative. In ancient India there was also the practice of amputating the nose of adulterers as a punishment. Paradoxically, this custom helped to improve Sushruta’s technique, which involved the reconstruction of the nose using skin taken from the forehead “wrote Dr. Justin Yousef in his research.

But even in Ancient Rome the spasmodic search for the ideal of aesthetic beauty was dominant. The Romans were known for their admiration of the perfect body and viewed congenital and injury-based deformities with suspicion. In De Re Medicina (14-37 AD) Aulus Cornelius Celsus, talks about surgical interventions that hide scars on the back, reduction of gynecomastia (i.e. the increase in fat in male breasts), use of skin flaps to repair ear and nasal lobe injuries. For the next 1700 years, Celsus’ work remained the most famous reference guide for plastic surgery.

Taking a leap into the history of our country, it was the great families of scientists who handed down the tradition of this art. In the Sicily of the fifteenth century, Dr. Branca reintroduced the reconstruction of the nose with the Indian technique, without however divulging the secrets of the trade, if not to his own son and professional “heir”. It was later discovered that the Brancas, to repair noses, lips and ears, used the so-called “Italian method” which then became the patrimony of the Calabrian Boiardi, also their family of surgeons.

Only in the nineteenth century, however, with the invention of anesthesia, did the surgical practices known up to that time begin to change. One factor that accelerated the progress of cosmetic surgery in Europe were the wars between the late 1800s and early 1900s. Improvements in anesthesia, the use of sulfonamides, transfusions and penicillin to keep infections at bay, reduced mortality and morbidity in the procedures, as well as learning how to use the hip bone for the reconstruction of facial bones. Up to the first mammoplasty with the patient’s own tissue, carried out in 1895 by the doctor Czerny. From this date onwards, a crescendo of technological innovations and scientific discoveries have led to contemporary cosmetic surgery, which is still in constant evolution.