Trouble brewing in South Korea's plastic surgery paradise

Updated: 2014-11-02 09:39


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Ghost doctors

In a notorious case last December, a high school student ended up in a coma after surgeries to fix her nose and get a "double-eyelid", a procedure that makes the eyes look bigger.

Trouble brewing in South Korea's plastic surgery paradise

Kim Bok-soon poses during an interview with Reuters at her home in Seoul October 14, 2014. In South Korea, where physical perfection is seen as a way to improve the quality of life, including job and marriage prospects, plastic surgery procedures can seem as commonplace as haircuts. Kim's doctor said he could turn her into a celebrity lookalike, and Kim decided to take the plunge, taking loans and spending 30 million won ($28,000) for 15 surgeries on her face over the course of a day. When the bandages came off and she looked in the mirror, she knew something had gone horribly wrong. Only later did Kim find out her doctor was not a plastic surgery specialist. [Photo/Agencies]

Cha's group looked into the incident and found the hospital that performed the surgery hired such ghost doctors, and referred the case to prosecutors. It is still under investigation by prosecutors and nobody has been indicted, an official at the association said.

Critics blame lax regulation, excessive advertising and society's obsession with appearance for fuelling an industry run amok.

South Korea is home to more than 4,000 plastic surgery clinics and has the world's highest rate of cosmetic procedures - 13 for every 1,000 people in a population of 49 million - according to government data.

The boom is gaining steam, fuelled by tourism, with the number of visiting Chinese patients tripling between 2011 and 2013, government data shows.

"Advertising too much has made people think surgeries are a commodity. People now think plastic surgeries are like buying stuff somewhere," said Cha, who has performed plastic surgeries for more than two decades.

"But plastic surgery is a surgery too, which can risk your life," he said.

A Miss Korea contestant in the 1980s underwent breast augmentation in 2008 in the hope that it would boost her chances of finding a husband.

Park, 50, who is divorced and gave only her surname, ended up going to the same doctor as Kim. Due to a series of post-surgical infections, her right breast ended up half the size of the left.

"I regret it so much that I tried to kill myself twice," she said. "Plastic surgeries are like an addiction. If you do the eyes, you want to do the nose. And doctors don't say 'you are beautiful enough', but get people to do more."

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