South Korea: Cultural Anomaly or Cosmetic Surgery Mecca?
Fifty years ago, the wealthy and famous went to Paris to buy the highest quality cosmetics and skin treatments. Today, more and more people are considering medical tourism – going abroad to have cosmetic surgery. By 2020, South Korea anticipates having one million visitors each year specifically for plastic surgery procedures. Today, the number is just under a quarter million, but it’s growing quickly.
A huge proportion of medical tourists goes to South Korea from China, where there is a large population of upper middle class and wealthy people who put a big priority on achieving certain beauty standards. The patients can be quite forthright and even aggressive when it comes to getting the exact procedures they want, regardless of what the surgeon believes would be beneficial. And medical regulations in South Korea remain lax to the laws and standards of care here in the United States. As an unfortunate result, there is a growing number of largely unqualified surgeons willing to perform procedures that a board certified and experienced plastic surgeon in the United States would (and should) not.
From Fad to Fashionable
From a cultural perspective, this might be an anomaly. In the past, plastic surgery in China was typically performed for reconstructive purposes; however, the demand for cosmetic plastic surgery has grown tremendously in recent years. In our practice, we have seen a notable increase in aesthetic surgery requests by Chinese Americans. The incredible economic prosperity in China feeding this trend is relatively new. And there are signs of economic trouble in China, not to mention shifting priorities among younger Chinese of all classes. Is the growth in procedures being performed in South Korea or the United States for that matter sustainable? The bubble might just burst.
On the other hand, the country might be able to attract an even wider audience with more people from more countries traveling there for procedures. The sheer volume of procedures performed in South Korea might lead to the country being seen as a legitimate cosmetic surgery hub. We might even see some fascinating medical advancements from South Korea in the next few years, especially if the South Korean government enacts stronger regulations while incentivizing innovation.