There is a reason plastic surgery tourism is booming in South Korea.

This work originally appeared of unpublishablea newsletter that criticizes the beauty industry.

Even before picking up your luggage from the merry-go-round at Incheon International Airport in Seoul, you can fit your face into a spectral imaging device to qualitatively analyze your skin health relative to your age. The AI-based analysis is a free service provided by the Medical Tourism Support Center of the Korea Tourism Organization. Staff who greet arriving travelers usually speak at least some English, Chinese, Japanese and Russian. Kiosks and clerks can help you find acupuncture and joint therapy facilities. However, most travelers are looking for skin treatments or cosmetic surgery and will be happy to refer you to their preferred plastic surgery clinic.

South Korea boasts the most sophisticated medical beauty market in the world.that is of If you want a weekend to bleach your butthole, color your armpits, or shape your skull in time for Monday’s return to work, this is your destination. Seoul has more cosmetic surgeons per capita than anywhere else on the planet, with the US having twice as many and he has 150% more than second-place Brazil. The Gangnam district has become known as the ‘Plastic Surgery District’ or the ‘Improvement District’ due to its high density of doctors. An oversupply of the market means that practitioners there are driven by competition to try treatments and techniques not yet licensed in the United States.

The obligation to upgrade the body is woven not only into the domestic society, but also into the country’s export industries and global standing. Why has Seoul become a place for influencers to flock to load up on laser treatments, injections and other treatments before spreading their experiences to the masses? It’s part of a high-level national strategy.

After the financial crisis of 1997, the regulatory environment in South Korea made it more profitable for doctors to specialize in surgical practice and diagnostic testing than in home practice. Cosmetic surgery provides both the need to “diagnose” a patient with a “problem” and a surgical solution to “fix” it. So entrepreneurial medical professionals are applying scientific methods, such as 3D imaging, to optimize faces, and using big data to aggregate ideal body shapes and proportions. started. After all, if there is an ideal that can be “proven” by “science,” surgery and other treatments are easier to sell.

The state even endorsed the logic of body transformation as a good citizen by offering temporary tax breaks for cosmetic surgery. (Treatment for male pattern baldness is now covered by the country’s national health insurance.) The professional and personal pressures of the country’s beauty culture have become particularly tough on South Korean women. Future employers and loved ones will ask why. wouldn’t do that If medically possible, fix eyelids or remove blemishes? Supply drove demand.

The evolution of chin contouring in South Korea is a notable example.As detailed in my book Perfection: looks and culture learned from the capital of K-Beauty:

Physicians began popularizing jaw surgery, which was previously only for reconstructive purposes, as a commercialized cosmetic procedure in the early 20s. Also known as V-line surgery, this surgery aims to reshape the lower half of the face, and may involve shaving both the lower and upper jaws (maxilla and mandible) to achieve a delicate-looking chin. It may need to be cut, disassembled and rearranged. When the size and shape of the jaw changes, the whole face changes. Jaw surgery stands out more than eyelid surgery and rhinoplasty because it was normalized and popularized by Korean and Korean doctors. There is some local pride in this. In 2014, a clinic displayed more than 2,000 pieces of his jaw in two giant glass containers, each labeled with the name of the patient who carved it. rice field. Despite being popular in South Korea for more than a decade, it is still considered “foreign” by doctors in the United States and Europe.

The medical tourism industry is premised on questioning how we look. V-line jaws are a manufactured standard where supply first created demand. “It was born just 15 years ago or so, but now it’s taken for granted,” South Korean feminist author James Turnbull tells me, explaining how a profit-driven industry has established standards. explained how it can be done.

But in 2007, South Korea was in a situation of too many doctors and not enough patients. The country was small enough to fit between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and the domestic market was saturated with spas, dermatology clinics and plastic surgery centers. Enter the Korea Tourism Organization and other export-oriented institutions. They have established medical tourism as one of their growth focus areas, one of the country’s ‘strategic commodities’.

The initiative offers tax breaks and tourism packages (transportation, hotels and meals included) for medical tourists and promotes South Korea’s progress and competitive pricing (treatment costs a fraction of what it costs in the US). has transformed Gangnam’s improved district into a thriving tourist spot. For an aesthetic upgrade. In 2009, about 60,000 foreigners visited South Korea for medical procedures. According to figures from the Korea Institute of Health Industry Development, the number of medical tourists reached nearly 500,000 by 2019, increasing steadily each year, increasing eightfold in 10 years.

Government agencies, such as national and local governments, have provided “tourist information hub” type services to help find registered clinics for people who want to work. But the medical tourism support system is a network of private brokers like Yunogo who partner with hospitals and doctors to help expats choose services from a range of options and guide patients through the process. “Korean surgeons have excellent skills and quality. Everything we needed [was] It’s a good system,” Eunogo’s Joy Kang told me. “It was interesting to build something that would connect overseas demand with quality doctors.”

We do more than just help match foreign patients with clinics. Intermediaries can provide concierge services such as translations (each clinic specializes in different primary languages) or caregivers who accompany you throughout the medical process, including being the first person to come out of anesthesia. In some cases, we even dispatch our own staff. The hospital usually covers all of this cost. Hospitals rely on a constant influx of patients. As the saying goes, if you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product.

A close-up of a woman's face with white lines that look as if they were cut with a scalpel.

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Many of today’s most popular procedures, like the ones you’ve probably seen on TikTok, don’t require recovery time. And please keep your receipt! A plastic surgery tax refund is included with all beauty services performed to non-Korean passport holders, making the deal even more affordable.

If the surgery makes the tourist’s face unrecognizable from the passport photo, there are services for that too. The Korea Tourism Organization will issue a “plastic surgery certificate” that immigration officers will accept as an identification card along with the original passport when the tourist leaves the country. For many people, international travel is a transformative experience. But few countries can match South Korea in guaranteeing that a person has changed by the time they leave, even if it’s just superficial. level.

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