Guest article contributed by Jeet Dhindsa, founder of My Seoul Secret, a medical beauty tourism service.
Just like music, technology, and fashion, plastic surgery in Korea has its trends. I have witnessed this firsthand as the founder of My Seoul Secret. We are an online medical beauty matchmaking service that's been researching and connecting foreign tourists with Korean plastic surgeons, dermatologists, and cosmetic dentists since 2015.
As an American medical beauty expert living in Korea, there's no doubt that South Korea is the world's undisputed capital for beauty. Well-known for its advanced treatments in cosmetic surgery and skincare, the pursuit of beauty is considered worthy in Korea, especially if that leads to a better version of you. At one end of the spectrum, this could mean opting for high-risk cosmetic surgery at one of Seoul's famed plastic surgery clinics. And at the other end, it can be as harmless and straightforward as masking flaws by applying BB cream (tinted moisturizer) on one's face.
In between, there's a growing middle-ground of beauty seekers who are trying to find a balance. In other words, they want to achieve long-lasting results while avoiding serious surgery and costs. In fact, experts say the demand for high-risk operations is declining in Korea because patients are preferring more straightforward procedures to pursue personalized beauty.
This has given rise to what's known as "Petit Beauty" treatments or non-invasive medical beauty. The word 'Petit' is a loan word from French, meaning small or minor, and Korean beauty clinics have adopted it to encompass modest and less invasive procedures. For example, injectables such as botox and fillers, laser skincare, and ultrasound lifting and tightening treatments that have minimal downtime. And all of which can be performed in a single same day visit.
The "Lunchtime" Surgery
As a local plastic surgery industry insider, I have seen several clinics firsthand experience an increased demand for petit surgery and medical beauty procedures. One, in particular, is Deesse Plastic Surgery in Seoul, South Korea. We had the privilege of making a collaboration video with one of their renowned facial plastic surgeons Dr. Kim about injectable fillers for the nose or the 15-minute nose job (see below):
Deesse Plastic Surgery also has a famous English-speaking board-certified dermatologist on staff, Dr. Song, who is well-known amongst locals in the Gangnam area. When patients are not looking for surgery, they are often referred to his practice, which is heavily focused on petit beauty and non-invasive treatments.
"I like to call it the lunchtime surgery," said Dr. Song, implying that many of his patients are often busy and can quickly come in and get a beauty touchup in less than 30 minutes. These "lunchtime surgeries" are most often in the form of injections, such as wrinkle-reducing botox, volumizing fillers, revitalizing skin boosters, and facial slimming shots that dissolve fat.
"The science and technology for injectables are enhancing every year, which makes this treatment more accessible, safer, and affordable for everyday people to enhance their aesthetics," mentioned Dr. Song. He went on to mention that patients these days want 'natural-looking' results and just want to be a better version of themselves, and not become someone else entirely.
Since Dr. Song regularly attends and participates in expert conferences, and has a good pulse of what's happening in the Seoul dermatology & cosmetic medicine scene. I asked him to list off the most common petit beauty injectables being performed across Seoul.
Dermal fillers are a gel-like liquid made of a naturally occurring substance in our body called hyaluronic acid. These are injected beneath the skin to smooth lines, restore lost volume and soften creases, or enhance facial contours. Popular global filler brands used in Korean clinics are Restalyne and Juvaderm, while Yvoire or Neuramis are two equivalent Korean brands that are trending amongst locals. This procedure involves a needle prick or two from syringes, and different injection sites will vary in terms of pain or discomfort. Still, everyone's threshold is different, but no need to worry since treatment typically takes only 15 to 20 minutes, with the results being almost instant.
Botox is used to flatten and smooth out wrinkles, especially ones that result from facial movements like smiling, frowning, or squinting. The treatment works by blocking nerve impulses to the muscles, causing them to relax. As a result, your expressions soften, and the dynamic wrinkles are significantly reduced. However, there are so many off-label applications for botox that are being discovered, pioneered, and experimented with every year. For instance, in Korea, botox is commonly used for facial slimming, reducing oversized calves, and alleviating sweating in the palms and armpit area.
Rejuran Healer is a very popular injectable developed by Pharma Research, a Korean pharmaceutical company. It's quickly sweeping across skin clinics in Asia as a powerful K-beauty treatment in a league of its own. The key ingredients for this anti-aging and skin revitalizing injection are derived from salmon DNA (PDRN — a molecule that stimulates cell growth and healing of the skin). It's known to be highly compatible and optimal for human skin. Rejuran's key benefits and results are increased skin elasticity and firmness, reduced appearance of wrinkles and fine lines. As well as healing acne scars reducing pore sizes, and making skin appear more radiant. Many Singaporean beauty bloggers have popularized Rejuran outside of Korea after venturing into Seoul clinics and trying it out for themselves and swearing by the results. They jokingly refer to it as the "salmon sperm facial" since the PDRN mentioned above is indeed extracted from salmon sperm.
Also known as injection lipolysis, these shots dissolve stubborn facial and belly fat by breaking down fat cells around the injection site. The main ingredient in this treatment is deoxycholic acid, a natural substance in the body that helps digest fats. Kybella, also known as "Belkyra" in Korea, is currently the only fat-dissolving shots that have been approved by the US and Korea FDA. Initially, these brands were approved to be marketed for reducing fat along the chin and jaw area (double chin). However, some practitioners do use it off-label to treat other body parts troubled by stubborn fat.
Remember to Research & Safety First
When it comes to medical beauty and aesthetic treatments, there are many alternative aside from surgery. Although these procedures can offer several benefits and reduced risks compared to surgery, that does not mean they are risk-free. Always remember to find and consult with well-trained specialists and board-certified doctors who are practicing in licensed and insured clinics.
It's essential to always choose a doctor based on their skills, experience, and specialty. And if you are planning to come to Korea and are not sure how to find a qualified expert. You can always reach out to expert advisors and contact licensed medical facilitator services like My Seoul Secret. Also, some other licensed and experienced facilitators worth mentioning and comparing are Cosmetic Surgery Seoul, Seoul Guide Medical, Misooda, and Eunogo. Moreover, the Korean Ministry of Health maintains this information portal to help foreign patients find qualified providers (english.visitmedicalkorea.com)
This article was contributed by Jeet Dhindsa, founder of My Seoul Secret (ASTUTR), a medical beauty tourism venture that helps English speaking patients receive cosmetic treatments in Seoul. Jeet is also a regular contributor and consultant for Kmall24, Invest Center Seoul, and lecturer at Medical Korea conferences.