South Korea cracks down on foreign-focused plastic surgery

Asian woman

America has been described by some as a country obsessed with plastic surgery. Countless tabloids, magazines and gossip sites speculate daily on what celebrity has had work done and where. Americans dished out an estimated $12 billion on cosmetic enhancements last year alone. But believe it or not, there is a city where plastic surgery is even more extreme than here in the U.S. In fact roughly 7.5 million people have traveled to this plastic surgery hot-spot to get work done, where there is an entire district filled with plastic surgery clinics. That city is Seoul, South Korea

From 2011 to 2012, there was a 21 percent increase in the number of cosmetic procedures undergone by Asian Americans, the highest increase of any ethnic group in the US, according to The American Society of Plastic Surgeons.  South Korea has the highest percentage of procedures, with a staggering 650,000 performed in 2011, according to The Economist. That means about one in five Korean women undergo some type of procedure, compared to only one in twenty women in the US.

In South Korea, eyelid surgery tops the list as most popular procedure. The K-Pop plastic surgery obsession has prompted Korean surgeons to move into new territory focused on Asian facial preferences, including double eyelid surgery, V-Line and rhinoplasty. Asian American women are also opting for more radical procedures including the controversial V-line surgery, which is unique to Asians, The Atlantic reported. This surgery removes part of the jaw and gives the face a more tapered look. Many even travel to Korea just to get it done, where the surgeries cost less and doctors are more willing to experiment with new techniques and methods.

But this rise in popularity in procedures has come at a price. According to a recent article on South Korea recently announced a crackdown on illegal brokers and unregistered clinics in an effort to protect medical tourists, especially those drawn by the country’s booming plastic surgery industry. This was announced after a 50-year-old Chinese woman was left in a coma late last month after undergoing a procedure at a plastic surgery clinic in the up-market Seoul district of Gangnam.

The Health Ministry unveiled a series of measures created in response to a growing number of complaints over botched jobs and exorbitant billing. Many of the complaints were filed by Chinese women who traveled specifically to South Korea for cosmetic procedures. “Market-disturbing activities involving illegal brokers and inflated fees, as well as disputes over malpractice, are sparking complaints from foreign patients,” the ministry said in a statement. “This package of measures is aimed at sustaining international trust in the country’s plastic surgery market,” it said.

The number of foreigners travelling to South Korea for medical treatment has been increasing by an average 37 percent a year since 2009 and totaled more than 210,000 in 2013. South Korea, and particularly Seoul, has an international reputation for plastic surgery. Their advertising of famous surgeons and giant “before-and-after photos” are plastered all over street billboards, subway trains, bus stops and the backs of bus seats for everyone to see. China’s growing middle class is a vast potential market, and many Korean clinics have Chinese-language websites. According to the health ministry, more than 25,400 Chinese came for cosmetic treatment in 2013, an increase of 70 percent from the previous year, with each one spending an average of $3,150.

In order to prevent price-gouging and ensure standards are maintained, the new measures unveiled require any medical facility treating foreign patients, and any brokers they use to attract clients, to register with the ministry. Failure to do so carries a maximum three-year jail sentence and a hefty fine. The ministry will also offer cash rewards to people who help identify and convict unauthorized brokers, who often charge outrageous fees for their services.

A new online rating system will be introduced to evaluate medical service providers, and potential medical tourists will be able to research the results on an official website ( Operating fees, the possibility of side-effects and details for the settlement of post-surgery disputes must all be provided and agreed on before any procedure. The government will also set up a dedicated agency to provide foreigners with information on medical facilities and assist with legal advice.

It’s seems that some of foreign travelers that went to South Korea seeking plastic surgery, were motivated by saving money more than anything else. Plastic surgery can be viewed by some, as safer because the cosmetic procedures or cosmetic surgery is elective and not life threatening. But the sad truth is, some surgeons might also be motivated my money, and hence your results may not be what you were expecting.

Anytime you make a decision regarding your wellbeing make sure you choose a plastic surgeon and clinic based on reputation and not cost. When you elect to make a permanent change to your face or body, it is definitely not the time to be shopping around for a deal.

If you are seeking more information on cosmetic procedures or plastic surgery you should make an appointment with a board certified plastic surgeon like Dr Aguiar. At Aguiar Plastic Surgery, we offer state-of-the art, safe, and effective cosmetic procedures, plastic surgery, reconstructive surgery, and Med Spa services in Tampa, Florida. We can discuss your concerns and give you an honest consultation that is designed and tailored to create an appearance on the outside that will reflect how you feel on the inside.

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