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Plastic Surgery in Korea

March 17, 2023

Plastic Surgery in Korea

Plastic Surgery in Korea

On this episode of the Korean Beauty Show podcast Lauren discusses plastic surgery in Korea, medical tourism and why the industry is so huge. Plus, what are some of the reasons people get surgery and what surgeries do they get?

 

 

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The Plastic Surgery Industry in Korea 

  • Big business - a nearly $4 billion industry that takes up 25% of the global market share
  • There are actually so many dermatologists and plastic surgeons in Korea there is a shortage of doctors in other specialities. 
  • According to the National Tax Service, there were 470 plastic surgery clinics registered in Gangnam in 2017. 


Medical Tourism

  • In 2019, more than 90,000 people visited Korea for cosmetic surgery '
  • According to data from the KHIDI, between 2018 to 2021, the most visited medical department among foreign patients in Korea was:
    • the internal medicine department (20 percent)
    • plastic surgery (14 percent)
    • dermatology (13 percent)
    • overall medical checkups (9 percent)

 

Plastic Surgery in Korea

 

Koreans and Plastic Surgery

  • Depends on which sources you analyze but some say 1/3rd of Korean women have had surgery and others say the figure is more around 20%
  • Winter is the season for surgery (in particular, after Suneung 수능 is complete and before going to uni)
  • Many parents are supportive of their children undergoing surgery and will even offer to pay for it if they get good results
  • There are even terms in the Korean language around plastic surgery ( 성괴 - a plastic monster; 강남 언니 someone who has done a lot of surgery, or looks like the faces in Gangnam)
  • According to a 2020 survey by Gallup Korea:
    • 89% of Koreans believe a person's looks matter either somewhat or a lot in life
    • only 11% said that they do not think looks matter. 
    • Asked whether having plastic surgery with the goal of getting a job or getting married is acceptable, 67% of respondents said yes, while 28% said that it was "not desirable".  
  • Very common to see online commentary about which idols or stars have gone under the knife and what people think they have done
  • It’s also the subject of dramas and movies - Men of Plastic, My ID is Gangnam Beauty

Plastic Surgery in Korea


Why do Koreans Get Plastic Surgery?

  • Many reasons but some of the main ones:
    • Population density can't be ignored when it comes to a lot of what people are doing in Korea and Seoul in particular - because people all live on top of one another they are much more impacted by what other people do; the clothes they wear, cars they drive, hairstyles, makeup etc.
    • It is a very competitive society - people are competing for jobs, partners, homes, spaces and more 
    • Very looks driven - resumes used to require you to put a photo on them
    • There is no denying that Kpop and Kdrama also has an impact.

Plastic Surgery in Korea

What are the popular surgeries in Korea?

  • Asian blepharoplasty
    • Aka "double eyelid surgery" or other surgeries to enlarge and widen the eyes 
    • This was popularized in 1950s Korea by David Ralph Millard, an American military plastic surgeon
    • But Euny Hong (author of The Birth of Korean Cool) says that while the procedure might have originated with the desire to look more western, that isn’t necessarily why Korean people get it anymore.
      • For one, Korea is a racially homogeneous society, so there's no reason why there would be an advantage to looking more Western
    • According to So Yeon Leem, a scholar of South Korean plastic surgery at Seoul National University, contemporary Korean plastic surgery has a different style and has a much different context to the kinds of things Millard was doing. 
  • Nose surgeries
    • Usually to add height to the nose bridge
  • Surgeries to change the shape of the face 
    • Buccal fat removal 
    • V-line surgery  

 

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"Because people (in Korea) all live on top of one another they are much more impacted by what other people do; the clothes they wear, cars they drive, hairstyles, makeup etc."

- Lauren Lee, Kbeauty Expert

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