Want to upgrade your looks? South Korea may be the place to visit…

Koreans are well-known for their obsession with looks.  They believe that looks can affect their employment and marriage prospects significantly.  This may explain why plastic surgery is so common in South Korea. For example, in 2013, the photos of Miss Korea finalists (who all looked very similar) posted on the internet prompted claims that plastic surgery might be the cause.  Students who get admitted to the universities may get double-eyelid surgery procedures as gifts from their parents.

Let’s also look at some statistics.  In South Korea, there are over 4,000 plastic surgery clinics and the Gangnam District is packed with such clinics. The rate of plastic surgery procedures is 13 procedures for every 1,000 people – given a population of 49 million, this is the highest rate in the world.  According to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, one in five Korean women had done plastic surgery (vs. one in twenty American women). The most popular plastic surgery procedure for Koreans is the double-eyelid surgery and other popular ones are fillers and botox, nose job and alteration to overall facial structure.

With the spread of the Korean wave, many tourists come to South Korea not only for shopping and sightseeing but also for undergoing plastic surgery to look like their favourite K-pop idols or Korean stars.  The Korean government is also keen to promote medical tourism which is mainly plastic surgery and expects medical tourists to reach 1 million by 2020.  Tour operators sell travel packages which include shopping, sightseeing and plastic surgery.  A basic double-eyelid surgery can cost more than US$900, and a plastic surgery trip including hotel and other activities can cost around US$15,000.

There are reports that some Chinese women’s faces have undergone such drastic changes after plastic surgery in South Korea that they looked completely dissimilar to their passport photos.  As a result, they had difficulties in getting past the airport security when they returned home.  As a result, some Korean hospitals issues “plastic surgery certificates” including the patient’s passport number, the name of the hospital where plastic surgery was done and the length of visit to help solve this problem.

While the South Korean plastic surgery industry is booming, complaints about it are also increasing.  According to the survey conducted by the Korea Consumer Agency on 1,000 patients, 32.3% expressed dissatisfaction and 17% had at least one negative side effect.  Formal complaints also doubled in 2013 from 2012.  Complaints included scars, infections, asymmetrical facial features, unqualified doctors, overly aggressive marketing and ghost doctors (who stand in for the qualified doctors to perform surgery on anaesthetized patients).

On the other hand, there are voices against too much plastic surgery in South Korea. For example, there was a reality show on the TV, “Back to My Face”, in which contestants who had done one 10 or more plastic surgery procedures but regretted the decisions were given the chance to undergo reverse plastic surgery to get back their original faces.

Therefore, if you are considering having plastic surgery, better think twice (or more times) before undergoing the procedures.  If you would like to go to South Korea to have plastic surgery, make sure that the plastic surgery clinic is of good reputation and the plastic surgeon is well-qualified.

Reminder: The next blog post will be published on 26 January 2015.  Watch this space!



Alexander Stevenson, “Plastic surgery tourism brings Chinese tourists to South Korea“, The New York Times, 2014-12-23

Jeyup S. Kwaak, “South Korea survey on cosmetic surgery raises eyebrows“, The Wall Street Journal Asia, 2014-12-04

MailOnline Reporter, “Plastic surgery so drastic they can’t get past airport security! How Chinese women are flying to South Korea for a more ‘Western’ face“, MailOnline, 2014-11-11 – there are before- and after-surgery photos of women showing how drastic the changes in face are

Ju-min Park, “Trouble brewing in South Korea’s plastic surgery paradise“, Reuters, 2014-11-02

Juju Chang and Victoria Thompson, “South Korea’s growing obsession with cosmetic surgery“, ABC News, 2014-06-29

Ethel Naveles, “New Korean show allows contestants to reverse excessive plastic surgery“, Audrey Magazine, 2014-05-16

鐘樂偉著,《韓瘋:讓世人瘋狂的韓國現象》,香港: 天窗出版社有限公司,2014年版, 151-163頁

Steven Nolan, “Has plastic surgery made these beauty queens look the same? Koreans complain about pageant ‘clones’ “, MailOnline, 2013-04-25

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