When it comes to the topic of plastic surgery, many people take a “good or bad” value position. The unofficial consensus is if a lot of it is done to a normal face then it’s “bad,” but if it’s done to restore looks lost due to an accident, then it is generally thought of as “good.”
When it comes to South Korea, much of the press is negative and borders on reporting mostly on the strange and/or weird such as the so-called “tower of jaw bones,” the proliferation of plastic surgery ads in Gangnam-gu, startling before and after shots, or the fact that South Korea undergoes the highest number of plastic surgery procedures per capita in the world.
Korean culture, particularly modern urban culture, puts an extraordinary amount of emphasis on outward appearance. Clearly, sociological pressures play a decisive role. Interestingly enough, there is pressure on the supply-side too. Korean doctors essentially have their incomes capped by price controls mandated by the National Health Insurance plan, so there is pressure to turn to plastic surgery to escape limits on their pay. All this has created a massive aesthetics-based business of cosmetics companies, skin care clinics and plastic surgeons.
All points well taken from a position that’s attracted a lot of attention, debate and discussion. IMHO, criticism of Korean sociological pressures and aesthetics culture is not without merit.
However, is it all bad? If we are to take perhaps subjective values out of the equation and just look at economic impact, then is this all “bad,” per se? From an economic and business perspective, Korea’s highly demanding aesthetics culture is creating an expertise, technology and infrastructure base that’s become the core of a highly developed cosmetics and plastic surgery industry. It’s an industry that’s so developed it is attracting considerable overseas demand, particularly in medical tourism and cosmetics. The big prize is China’s aesthetics market, for which Korea may be uniquely positioned to capture a greater share of than more established players in Japan (i.e. Shinseido), France (i.e. L’Oreal) and the U.S. (i.e. Procter & Gamble). From a plastic surgery standpoint, Chinese patients now make up the largest percentage of medical tourists visiting Korea.
Tremendous domestic demand and emphasis on quality is creating a “virtuous cycle” of sorts, that’s in turn supporting an industry that’s becoming increasingly more attractive to a lot of non-Koreans. The demand translates into sales and profits, which creates additional capital to be available to fund more product and service improvements and to keep comparative costs down due to efficient capacity utilization and expansion of economies of scale. This creates even more non-domestic demand, further expanding and accelerating the cycle and thus giving Korea, Inc. yet another industry to hang its hat on.