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: Gaspare Tagliacozzi / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    At First, People Didn't Want Nose Jobs For Cosmetic Reasons

    Dating back to the 6th century BCE, nose jobs were not for cosmetic reasons, but rather due to a serious disfigurement or injury, such as from war, brutality, or disease. The procedure was painful and time-consuming, likely deterring many from undergoing a nose job. The first known nose job for cosmetic purposes did not occur until the late 1800s.

    Long before the advent of anesthesia, the tools used for early nose jobs, which included gripping devices and knives, underscored the surgery's gravity. 

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

    Surgeons Sliced Living Flesh And Stretched It Over The Nose

    Suśruta's 6th-century BCE text explained how to create an artificial nose

    First the leaf of a creeper, long and broad enough to fully cover the whole of the severed or clipped off part, should be gathered; and a patch of living flesh, equal in dimension to the preceding leaf, should be sliced off (from down upward) from the region of the cheek, and - after scarifying it with a knife - swiftly adhered to the severed nose.

    The text then recommended a "cool-headed physician" wrap up the area and let the patient rest. If the procedure succeeded, the skin would graft to the nose. 

  • Photo: Andrea del Verrocchio / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Women Suffered Nasal Disfigurement As Punishment

    For centuries, women accused of wrongdoing underwent nasal disfigurement as punishment. In the medieval period, for example, a woman might lose her nose for disobedience or because some viewed her as sexually promiscuous. A Vandal king at the fall of Rome thought his wife was plotting against him, so he ordered disfigurement of her nose and ears. 

    In Jerusalem during the 10th century, women who committed adultery could be punished by cutting off their nose. For these women, a nose job was perhaps worth the pain.

  • Photo: Gaspare Tagliacozzi / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Rulers Disfigured Their Enemies, Driving The Demand For Nose Jobs

    Facial defects or disfiguration as a result of war or political fallout led to the need for nose jobs. Some rulers humiliated their enemies by cutting off their noses. In cultures believing in bodily resurrection, cutting off someone's nose could permanently handicap them in the afterlife.

    In regions as widespread as pre-Inca Peru and Roman Scotland, people suffered from facial disfigurement, which drove the need for nose jobs.