Weird History
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The First Nose Job Took Place In The 6th Century, And There's More About The Surgery You Don't Know

Updated November 16, 2018 24.8k views13 items

When did nose jobs become popular? The first cosmetic nose job didn't happen until the late 1800s, but the procedure dates back 2,500 years. Around the 6th century BCE, an Indian doctor wrote about a process for grafting a flap of cheek skin over the nose.

Unlike other early medical practices causing more harm than good, such as leeching or rubbing animal dung into wounds, methods used by ancient plastic surgeons were surprisingly effective and modern (but incredibly painful).

For centuries, people didn't get nose jobs for vanity reasons. Instead, the procedure helped patients who lost their noses due to war wounds or disease. By the 16th century, when Europeans associated a sunken nose with syphilis, people wanted to avoid social stigma. So surgeons developed lengthy grafting procedures to repair lost or disfigured noses. Or, if patients didn't want to undergo the procedure, they could buy a prosthetic nose like Tycho Brahe. 

Though the term "rhinoplasty" to describe plastic surgery of the nose didn't emerge until the 1820s, and the term "nose job" in 1944, nose alteration for medical or cosmetic reasons has roots in ancient history.

  • Photo: Wellcome Images / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-4.0

    An Indian Surgeon Allegedly Pioneered The Procedure

    The first nose job in history dates back to the 6th century BCE. The Hindu Sanskrit writings of Suśruta, an Indian physician, detail the process of surgically restoring damaged or missing noses. Suśruta's patients included people disfigured by disease or wounded in battle.

    The doctor used a method similar to what modern plastic surgeons do: he surgically created a flap of skin and rotated it to cover the damaged nose. Surgeons continued to use Suśruta's method in India for more than 2,000 years, well into the 19th century.

  • Photo: Wellcome Images / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-4.0

    A Nose Job In The 16th Century Took Five Weeks

    In a 1597 surgery book by Gaspare Tagliacozzi, professor of anatomy and surgery at the University of Bologna, described how to create a nose for men who suffered facial injuries in battle. The surgeon attached skin from the patient's upper arm to his head, forcing the patient to remain in place for three weeks while the arm skin grafted to the nose.

    The patient then waited another two weeks before the surgeon formed the flap of skin into a nose-like shape, completing the nose job.

  • Photo: Internet Archive Book Images / Wikimedia Commons / No Restrictions

    Indian Doctors Grafted Butt Skin To The Face

    For centuries, to replace defects on the nose, Indian surgeons would transplant skin from other parts of the body. Some texts recommended cutting off skin from the buttocks to attach to the face. To prepare the thicker butt skin, doctors used an unusual method: they flayed the skin with a whip so the skin would swell and bruise, then cut off the skin to graft to the face.

    Some believed the whipping produced a thinner skin layer, which would have a better chance of healing and grafting to the nose.

  • Photo: Wellcome Images / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-4.0

    Syphilis Made Nose Jobs Popular

    During Europe's major outbreak of syphilis, long before effective treatments emerged, the disease carried a social stigma. It caused disfigurement, hair loss, and soft-tissue decay, which could destroy the suffering patient's nose. By the 16th century, Europeans associated facial disfigurements with disease and infection, driving the desire for nose jobs.

    At the time, the most common procedure grafted arm skin to the patient's face to create a new nose.