The Eyeing Game: Cosmetic Surgery in Korea


BUSAN, South Korea — Regardless of your opinion on its merits, cosmetic surgery is with us to stay. And if you are living or working here in the ROK, you surely know that you are in the cosmetic surgery capital of the world. 

According to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, there were a staggering 365,000 cosmetic surgery operations performed in 2009 in South Korea. In a country with a population of nearly 49 million, that works out to about one procedure for every 134 people, compared with about one procedure for every 237 people in the U.S.

Graph courtesy of Asian Plastic Surgery Guide

And it’s not only a domestic craze, the number of foreign patients coming for procedures has also seen a boom. In Gangnam, Seoul, the cosmetic surgery mecca of Korea, more than 19,100 foreign patients had some sort of cosmetic surgery procedure performed last year. Gangnam aims to attract 32,000 patients this year.

The Eyes Have It

Eyelid surgery, also known as Blepharoplasty, is the most popular cosmetic enhancement procedure in Asia. Eyelid surgery aims to improve the appearance of the eyes. It removes the bagginess of the lower eyelids and removes excess fatty deposits that appear in the upper eyelid portion.

Although many countries across Asia partake in eyelid surgery, Korea takes the cake. In a recent poll, 50% of Korean women admitted to visiting a cosmetic surgeon — with most receiving some kind of operation.

According to an article of called “Asian-Americans Criticize Eyelid Surgery Craze”, approximately, 75% of all Koreans are born without what is known as a double eyelid crease. An “eye job” performed by a cosmetic surgeon aims widen the eyes and reshape their appearance by stitching a permanent crease into the eyelid. In Korea, one in ten adults have either had, or have considered having eyelid surgery.

The Myth of Wanting a "Western" Eye

It is said that this trend started when the heavy influence of Western media and imagery started making its way into Asia. The notion of beauty among some Asians changed, after being influenced by how they saw‘beauty’ portrayed on television and movie screens.

Dr. Charles Lee is a plastic surgeon in Los Angeles. He says that the perception that Asians are attempting to have “Western eyes” is misleading.

“In Asia, people don't see it as ethnically altering the same way they do here (in America) . . . But we believe we are just trying to make them look prettier. Just a prettier Asian eye, not a Western eye.”

Interestingly, in Western countries, older women are more opt to have cosmetic surgery to enhance their looks that have been tested by time. It is a way to beat father time. In an interview with William Beeson, a plastic surgeon in Carmel, Ind., and previous president of the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgeons, women in their 30's and 40's have what they refer to as the “mommy makeover,” which includes such procedures as tummy tucks and breast enhancements, as well as work done to remove wrinkles and bagginess around the eyes.


In Korea, the trend transcends generational demographics with even high school students seeking out cosmetic surgery — solely for the desire to ‘improve’ their looks.  A recent survey found that 41.4 % of teens are willing to undergo plastic surgery for beauty enhancement. The report stated:

“The comparison with older age brackets is stunning: 41.4 percent among teens is almost 10 percentage points higher than interviewees in their 20s, almost 20 percentage points higher than those in their 30s, and nearly 30 percentage points higher than interviewees who were 40 or over, which would (logically) seem the prime market for cosmetic surgical improvements,”

And while women, and even men across the world seek a new look for their eyes,  like any other surgery, blepharoplasty can cause side effects and complications. Common eyelid surgery risks and complications range from infection, bleeding, uneven appearance and excessive skin removal, which can lead to patients being unable to completely close their eyes.

There is also what is known as Ectropion, in which the lower eyelid starts to fold inward with a patient's eyebrows actually brushing up against the cornea.

Eyelid Surgery Costs

If this hasn’t scared you off (the percentage of mishaps are actually quite low) then you have to consider the price. In the U.S., eyelid surgery may range from $2,500 to $3,000 – twice as much the price in Korea that costs $1,500 for an eyelid operation. So if you are going to get it done, get it done here with a trusted and board certified surgeon.

Jane Davis writes for the website Plastic Surgery Guide. This was written exclusively for Busan Haps.




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