In recent years, Seoul has become the synonym for K-pop, makeup, unattainable beauty standards and plastic surgery. In fact, South Korea’s capital is all about beauty and the perfect look, even if obtaining it means getting a nip and a tuck.
Dermatology and plastic surgery tourism is bringing thousands of affluent tourists into a country that is already famous for being the plastic surgery capital of the world. And according to Business Insider, “South Korea has the highest rate of plastic surgeries per capita in the world.” Moreover, the Telegraph mentions there are over 500 clinics in Gangnam alone and they perform roughly 1 million procedures every year. The treatments carried out at these clinics vary from non-surgical procedures to risky surgeries that require extensive recovery periods or even treatments in Intensive Care Units. And if this desire to look good at whatever cost almost “amounts to a society-wide psychological illness,” one must agree with Renee Engeln, a professor of instruction in psychology at Northwestern University, who argues that beauty sickness is taking precious time away from us, making us slaves to our beauty routines. Despite harsh criticism, South Korean youngsters still prefer blepharoplasty and rhinoplasty to modern feminist concepts. But it’s not just locals who fuel the cosmetic surgery and dermatologic market. In fact, the United States keeps its global pole position as the world’s biggest cosmetic surgery market, although there are significant differences between the West and Seoul. Starting from age consideration and ending with moral and ethical issues- the two sides represent contrasting positions but that doesn’t stop foreigners from flocking to South Korea for their fillers and Botox.
All in all, in a world infatuated with K-pop and eternal youth, South Korea becomes a beacon of hope for those who believe that the healthcare markets in the U.S. and E.U. are becoming increasingly elitist. With lower price points and state-of-the-art facilities, Seoul remains an interesting option; thus, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that medical tourism is booming and private clinics are coming up with innovative ways to attract Western patients. And thanks to new technologies, patients can use cosmetic surgery apps and online consultations from their own home, receiving feedback straight away. But these innovative marketing strategies don’t come with an assurance that the doctors and clinics in the host country are safe or legit. In fact, medical tourism comes with certain risks such as communication issues, follow-up care, medical complications during procedures, and hidden costs.
Seoul had its fair share of negative press because of botched plastic surgeries and hidden costs and the media has reported on cases in which brokers charged thousands of dollars or scandalous fees for procedures that were not up to Western standards. Furthermore, unlicensed and unqualified medical practitioners took advantage of foreign patients. However, in recent years, the situation has improved significantly. Consequently, Upscale Living has caught up with industry leaders to discuss the challenges and opportunities in the market.
Ariyapat Thammapiriyapol from Oracle Clinic said that foreigners prefer their facilities because of the excellent services that they find. Moreover, a team of highly skilled and dependable specialists assists foreign patients throughout their stay. And according to Thammapiriyapol, Oracle’s impeccable reputation is one of the company’s biggest advantages. “Patients trust us because they are confident that we use high-tech medical equipment and are against standardized treatments,” says Thammapiriyapol.
During our talk, Thammapiriyapol told me that the clinic is very active on the influencer marketing front, partnering with KOLs “who have large platforms” but I wondered if relying on advertorials and partnerships with influencers is really getting the right patients inside the clinic. Let’s face it, no one in their right mind would rely on a vlogger’s advice on such important life decisions as plastic surgery. But then again, the target of most clinics in Seoul are not affluent, middle-aged Western patients who are well-informed and educated on medical procedures, but teenage girls who come in for nonsurgical procedures such as fillers, Botox and laser treatments; therefore, KOLs might do the magic.
Later, I caught up with Jihong Lee, CEO, and co-founder of Jivaka Care and found out that Jivaka Beauty is a digital clinic where patients can access cosmetic procedures. According to Lee, the clinic provides “personalized solutions for each patient’s concern and seamless user experience from treatment decision, a doctor visit to post-procedure care.” But in a sea of digital clinics, I wanted to know what makes Jivaka Beauty stand out apart the fact that it is “a startup company backed by top Korean venture capital, and founded by alumni of Google, graduating from Seoul National University.”
Lee told Upscale Living that his “team has vast experience and expertise in the field which include certified professionals in medicine and pharmacy.” Moreover, Jivaka Beauty works only with certified doctors and all procedures “are carefully selected and evaluated, to ensure satisfying results for patients’ cosmetic concerns.”
As it seems promising, I wondered how foreign patients can access these services from the comfort and privacy of their home and I found out that all it takes is a direct message on Jivaka Beauty Instagram to start a conversation with someone from the Jivaka beauty staff. “We also offer chat, online and video consultations where patients can talk one on one with doctors,” said Lee. And while wondering if a video consultation could replace a real doctor visit, Lee added that Jivaka Beauty’s service is “a beauty concierge, that complements real-doctor visit for patients before/ after the actual procedure.”
Evidently, South Korea’s plastic surgery market is thriving. And in a sea of high performing hospitals and talented medical providers, it’s easy to find the best health care services and medical treatments for every need, but too often foreigners become an easy target for medical-related scams.