Skin Care

Korea in Cosmetics: How the home of K-Pop became obsessed with plastic surgery

Korea has earned a reputation as the world capital of cosmetic plastic surgery. The most common procedures in South Korea are double eyelid surgery, nose jobs and skin whitening Anti-ageing procedures such as a facelift and necklift are also popular with older age groups.

How it all began

The rise of plastic surgery in South Korea began in the 1950s. The Korean War had just ended, and American doctors were helping with reconstructive surgery for wounded soldiers and civilians. Around this time, the double eyelid procedure was first introduced as a novel way for Koreans to reinvent their look. Some sources claim that these patients were seeking to attain a more Caucasian appearance, but this theory is doubted by others who consider it to be an oversimplification. Regardless of motive, historians generally agree that this was the starting point of the Korean plastic surgery craze.

The practice was officially legalised in 1974 and has gone from strength to strength ever since. It is considered a stepping stone not only towards better relationships, but also higher social status and even improved career prospects. This is particularly relevant when considering the meteoric rise of K-Pop. The appearance of young K-Pop stars is arguably just as important as musical talent. K-Pop stars are secretive about their procedures, and most will not admit to having any work done. However, it does not escape the attention of their fans that all female stars have large eyes, small noses and pointy chins. The popularity of this look with K-Pop stars has encouraged a beauty ideal amongst their fans, many of whom idolise this look and consider it to be the ultimate goal when planning future cosmetic work.

Is it just women looking for these treatments?

While approximately 80% of patients are female, the popularity of male K-Pop stars has made it increasingly acceptable for men to undergo cosmetic procedures as well. The younger generation of men are becoming more interested in their appearance, and cosmetic surgery for males has almost entirely lost its stigma. It is no longer considered unusual for a man to undergo a nose job or a facelift for purely cosmetic reasons.

Surgeons continue to find new ways to grow their market. In 2017, roughly 50,000 foreigners travelled to South Korea to undergo cosmetic surgery. The country’s reputation for high-quality surgery performed by top plastic surgeons has spread worldwide. Many surgeries will even offer package deals including language translators, hotels and transport. For now at least, business continues to boom as the popularity of this trend shows no sign of waning.

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