More Singaporeans flying to Seoul for plastic surgery

Elizabeth Soh
Elizabeth Soh
Singapore Showbiz

One of many plastic surgery and aesthetic clinics along "Beauty Belt" Gangnam and Apjugeong (Yahoo! Photo)

"Give me a week, and I will give you a new, more beautiful and more perfect face," says South Korean plastic surgeon Choi, 41, who operates at one of Gangnam's more popular aesthetic surgery clinics.

This is the promise he makes to the 30 Singaporeans he consults every month — that's about one every day.

Just eight months ago, Choi, who wanted only his last name to be used, would only see a maximum of 10 patients from Singapore a month -- and mostly, middle-aged women.

Now, walk-ins at his clinic include Singaporean women in their 50s as well as young professionals in their 20s, and most recently, a trio of girls fresh out of secondary school who wanted a plastic surgery makeover before starting junior college.

Choi is not the only Seoul plastic surgeon who is seeing a surge in Singaporean patients, who flock to him for everything from non-invasive fillers to full body makeovers.

Five other South Korea-based surgeons Yahoo! Singapore spoke to confirmed that the number of Singaporeans visiting them in the past year have tripled or more.

Why do they fly there, what do they do there, and is plastic perfection really as hassle-free as promised? Read on to find out.

Online surgery consultations

For Madam Andrea Yeo, 53, and her two daughters Evelyn and Ethel, the substantial amount of information available online, including discussion forums, about having plastic surgery in South Korea helped them decide -- within a week -- to get their procedures done in Seoul.

"Everything could be done long distance. Things like reading up on the procedures, reading reviews from other medical tourists, and making an 'online appointment' with our doctor and discussing what we wanted to get done," said Yeo, who declined to disclose her occupation.

"We wanted to go to Seoul to do it because my daughters told me how their actresses and stars looked so pretty but still so natural. To get that specific 'look', of course we had to look for a real South Korean plastic surgeon."

"The forum members made it sound really straightforward and simple, and they were all gushing about how good they looked and how fast they recovered compared to doing it in Singapore, or even Bangkok," said Ethel, who is working part-time as a public relations executive while pursuing a degree in marketing.

Websites for South Korea's plastic surgery clinics are in English to cater to Singaporean patients and have detailed before-and-after descriptions (Item Plastic Surgery)

A simple online search of the phrase "Seoul plastic surgery" calls up dozens of clinics with English websites and descriptions of the procedures they offer, as well as "middlemen" services like SeoulTouchUp, which aid (for a fee) medical tourists in planning their itinerary, accommodation and flights.

Yeo and her daughters decided on a clinic in upscale "plastic surgery district" Gangnam which had been recommended by other Singaporeans, and sent their make-up free, full-face photos to their surgeon of choice before he responded with an e-mail of all the "revisions" he recommended, as well as how much it would cost them.

Clinic staff also e-mailed information about hotels near the clinic and offered to help them book rooms at no charge. Transport to-and-from the clinic, via a minibus, was also thrown into the deal.

Her daughters, aged 24 and 26, took three weeks off work, and the trio went to Seoul and came back with new eyes, jaws and nose after recovering, post-op, for two weeks there.

"We went out with our bandages and everything after one week of staying in 'hiding', and you know what, no one even looked twice at us. We shopped, ate and had fun. If we did it in Singapore, people would be looking at us like we were zombies or just crazy," said Ethel.

Popular Singaporean blogger Qiu Qiu is one of many who have gone to Seoul for plastic surgery (Photo courtesy of Qiu Qiu)

More Singapore bloggers going under the knife

And although most Singaporeans would still do a double take at recent plastic surgery patients walking around swathed in bandages, popular online personalities blogging openly about their sponsored surgeries have gained significant interest in the past year. Their openness have reduced the stigma of doing plastic surgery — at least among the younger set.

Most recently, well known blogger Qiu Qiu shared her experience, blow by blow, of travelling to Seoul to get fat-grafting and nose surgery done.

"Locally, I checked. To do the nose job I want, it would cost $7,000 and above (in Singapore). If you include follow-up fees and consultation, it would work out to $8,000 and above, easily," said Qiu Qiu in an e-mail interview with Yahoo! Singapore.

She had previously done alarplasty in Thailand to reduce the width of her nose, paying only $170 for the procedure which would otherwise have set her back by between $2,500 to $3,500 if done in Singapore.

However, she said that if it were not for the price, she would prefer to have her surgery done locally, where she would be able to have her friends and family physically with her to help her through post-operation recovery.

Qiu Qiu also felt that the standard of plastic surgery in Korea is generally better. In her experience, surgeons were able to create a more natural look for her and she felt that she looked "at least" five years younger post-surgery.

"Koreans have a way of doing really nice and natural nose jobs. The bridge has a natural slope and the nose tip reconstruction helps deliver a nice "perky" tip. Fat grafting is also getting more and more popular because it has longer-lasting results than fillers. However, it is not explored locally, but already trending in Seoul, where it costs much less but has great results," she said.

Popular Singapore blogger Qiu Qiu underwent nose and fat-grafting surgery in Seoul (Photo courtesy of Qiu Qiu)

The beauty and lifestyle blogger has since received many questions from her readers and fans about her surgery.

"They mostly want to know if it hurts and low long the recovery takes, when they can go back to work or school if they do nose jobs or fat grafting," she shared.

Other bloggers like DJ Peggy Heng and beauty guru Jacqueline Koh have also shared extensively about their surgeries in previous interviews with Yahoo! Singapore.

'1-week quick fixes'

Seoul's numerous plastic surgery clinics are also popular because prices are lower than Singapore -- due to intense competition — while the quality of care is considered to be equal to that of Singapore's.

"My patients tell me that I charge about 30 per cent lower than plastic surgeons in Singapore," said Dr Jeong, who works at a Myeong Dong clinic which specialises in facial augmentation, especially fat grafting, surgery.

Jeong charges only $2,300 for doing full face fat grafting surgery, which involves extracting fat out of a patient's thighs or buttocks, purifying it, and then injecting it into their faces to create a more "3D", younger and rounded appearance.

In contrast, a quick check with Singapore's plastic surgery clinics revealed that an identical procedure would cost at least $4,000.

Seoul's plastic surgery clinics are also well-known for their "1-week quick fix" surgeries, which involve up to four procedures done on the same day, a follow up appointment 5 days later to remove stitches, and then the patient simply takes a flight at the end of the week back to Singapore to continue healing.

"This is the most popular choice for Singaporean ladies. We do fat grafting, double eyelid and rhinoplasty for them on their first day here, let them heal for five days, then take out the stitches, and that is it. Sometimes, they don't even need to have stitches taken out here, they can go back to Singapore to do it," said Jeong, who sees about four Singaporeans in his clinic every week.

After Chinese and Japanese tourists, Singaporeans form the third biggest proportion of his clinic's patients.

Item Plastic Surgery, a South-Korea based plastic surgery clinic with branches in Malaysia, has an office with a local representative who helps facilitate plastic surgery trips for interested Singaporeans.

When Yahoo! Singapore went to visit the office on a weekday, this reporter saw a non-stop flow of young and middle-aged women waiting for consultation. The clinic's local representative admitted that she was "really very, very busy" and that the number of potential patients has more than tripled in the past few months.

One of the girls who was waiting to be seen told Yahoo! Singapore that she wanted to go to Seoul to get a nose and double eyelid surgery as the surgeons she spoke to in Singapore refused to operate on her.

"They said I'm only 17 and I will regret it, but if I want to pay, why can't they just do it? They suggested fillers to make my nose bridge higher, but those are only temporary," said the petite teenager, who is waiting to start at Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

Singapore blogger Peggy Heng was sponsored by Item Plastic Surgery last year to share her experience with her readers. (Item Plastic Surgery)

'Make me look like Song Hye Gyo'

One thing that worries South Korean plastic surgeons about their Singaporean clients is that they often come to Seoul with the expectation to be transformed – but are not sure what they want exactly.

"Many of them come in, asking me to make them look like this star or that star, and I am very worried because the purpose of plastic surgery in my opinion is to make them look like better versions of themselves and not another person. Looking like someone else might cause them to suffer serious psychological consequences," said Dr Kim HC, 55, who sees about three Singaporean patients a week at his Apgujeong practice.

"My assistant and I counsel them, and then we do a 3D consultation to show them how we can enhance their current looks without too drastic surgery (sic). They cannot expect to look like a pop star after just one week of surgery, it is not realistic. South Korean women are better prepared emotionally, they come and tell us exactly what kind of nose, eyes, they want and we see if the feature will look good or suit the rest of their features."

To look like Korean drama darling Song Hye Gyo, considered the epitome of Korean beauty, is one of the most popular "choices" for Singaporean women seeking plastic surgery in South Korea. The looks of Stairway to Heaven actress Kim Tae Hee and K-pop group Girl's Generation's Yoona are hot among the younger set aged 25 to 30.

"I tell my Singaporean patients, Song Hye Gyo's nose will look too small on your face, it won't flow and look natural. You need to manage their expectations. Surgery is trauma to the body and doing multiple revisions can put the patient through a lot of pain," said Kim.

Other doctors, however, say there is a growing group of young Singaporean women who know exactly what they want. The most common surgeries they undergo are fat grafting, double eyelid surgery, or epicanthoplasty, and rhinoplasty, or nose jobs.

No such thing as a 'perfect, painless plastic surgery experience'

Just as there are many who speak of their joy at their newly enhanced looks, there are patients who regret flying abroad for surgery. They cite complications, revisions and depression as some of the negative consequences of undergoing surgery away from home.

"Seriously, I was not happy with my nose job after the first surgery, but I had to fly back to Singapore as I did not take enough leave and already booked the flight. In the end, I had to fly back to Seoul again later that year to revise my nose. No more cost savings, and also a lot of stress," said creative consultant Angie Teo, 45, who flew to Seoul in December 2012 with two friends.

Yeo and her daughters, who are happy with their surgeries, said that in the initial week after surgery, all three of them felt depressed and refused to look at their bandage covered, swollen selves in the mirror.

"So many times, I asked myself what have I gotten myself into, what if the swelling does not go down. I lost appetite and I was so worried I had ruined my daughters looks by allowing them to come to South Korea with me. I felt very stupid. Luckily, it turned out okay," said Yeo.

"On hindsight, yes, I think we should have done more research or maybe seen a doctor in Singapore, but were so carried away by the idea that we just went ahead with it. I would recommend thinking about it for at least half year before making the decision," said Ethel.

Blogger Qiu Qiu's advice is also to do more research.

"Compare the prices, and find out more about the doctors and what they specialise in. Some people like more obvious changes while some people prefer natural, subtle changes," she said.

"I would give my readers my personal opinion about my doctor (from REGEN Korea) and advise them to e-mail (online medical resource) to get help with price comparisons and the specialities of different doctors and clinics."

She also recommends that potential patients bring along family or friends to Seoul to help them with their recuperation.

"It's always easier to get past the recovery stage with support from them."

Related links:
Singapore's "Go Plastic" Phenomenon: Fixated with Fillers
Singapore blogger undergoes $100,000 plastic surgery makeover