Let’s start with disfigurement…

Thousands of patients travel to South Korea each year to have their bodies and faces reshaped to look more like the celebrities they see on television. This influx is known as medical tourism.

My office staff has met potential patients who stated they planned to have their breast augmentation performed in the South Korea, as the procedure would be thousands of dollars less than it would be in the US…

Saving money always sounds good

Unfortunately, MANY patients have returned to the US disfigured by their South Korean procedures. A growing number of women claimed shoddy procedures and a lack of regulation in South Korea’s booming medical tourism industry have left them physically and mentally scarred.

Patients were told that they would look like the photos they brought in of glamorous stars. They were told they’d have a new nose, lips and chin, but after their procedures, they’d find their new features were NOT what they expected… words like “crooked”, “ugly” and “damaged” were used to describe their post-op features.

Recently, Seoul announced a crackdown on illegal brokers and unregistered clinics, in an attempt to protect thousands of medical tourists, particularly those drawn by the country’s plastic surgery industry.

South Korea is a cultural powerhouse in Asia – South Korean celebrities and pop-music are massively popular in China and often feature cosmetically enhanced stars. South Korea has pushed hard to help its medical tourism industry thrive – In 2013, the industry was worth approximately $360 million.

Who tops the medical tourism list? China.

More than 25,400 visitors from China visited South Korea for treatments in 2013, an increase of 70 percent from the year before!

According to a Chinese newspaper, Chinese tourists in South Korea often pay more than twice as much as locals do for cosmetic procedures.

Marketing magic…

Many South Korean clinics have Chinese-language websites, which offer surgery alongside vacations, with promotions offered during Chinese holidays.

One clinic promises to create “almond shaped eyes” and a “magical V-shaped face” – ideals of feminine beauty in much of East Asia.

Last month, a 50-year-old woman was left in a coma after a procedure performed in a clinic in Seoul’s Gangnam district

Plastic Surgery Brokers

One third of patients’ costs may go towards fees for brokers, who act as liaisons for the hospitals. One patient said she was contacted incessantly by a broker, and felt cajoled into having the surgery.

One patient spent more than $26,000 on a surgery in 2010 at a clinic in Seoul. One of her procedures involved having cartilage removed from her chest and added to her nose, to make it more prominent.

After she returned home, she began to suffer from nasal infections. She stopped sleeping well. She stopped meeting with her friends because her “nose is just too ugly”.  She said that she felt tricked by the South Korean government, who may protect the medical tourism industry, as it is a key source of revenue.

She is now being treated at a clinic close to home, but she says that her mental health greatly suffered after her operation:

  • Lost sleep
  • Stopped seeing friends
  • Suffered from depression

Complaints from foreign patients (regarding illegal brokers, inflated fees and disputes over malpractice) grown increasingly…

A few weeks ago, South Korean authorities declared that the proprietors of unregistered facilities treating foreign patients could be punished with jail sentences.

Makes sense, right? But, why is this a NEW development?

South Korean clinics have treated thousands of patients without plastic surgery licensing because that’s where the money is.

Support groups of hundreds of botched-cosmetic procedures have initiated campaigns to throw light on this problem.


Cosmetic surgery can change your life. If done well (performed by a board-certified plastic surgeon, who you know well, who has a history of performing the proven-procedure safely and effectively) your increased confidence can feel magical.

HOWEVER, you do have to take responsibility. Understand the industry! Don’t be so trusting! Do your research!

Many women in the support groups mentioned above noted that their clinic had not warned them of the potential risks of their procedure(s).  Having cosmetic surgery performed by a board certified expert, instead of looking towards medical tourism, can result in the need for revisional surgery.  Can you imagine having to travel to another country for your follow-up care if something goes wrong?

One woman stated that after an operation in 2013 left her with unequally sized eyes, she was devastated and attempted suicide.

A designer underwent one of the most controversial procedures performed at a clinic in Seoul:  “double-jaw” surgery. This procedure involves cutting the jawbone to produce a slimmer jawline. Today, the designer’s mouth is visibly misaligned. She finds it hard to eat and she wears a facemask at all time.

A Chinese actress stated that a 2013 operation left with constant nose pain and numbness and hair-loss on her forehead. She stated the clinic told here there weren’t any risks and that her surgeon was “as famous as the Hermes bag she was carrying”.

The clinics that performed these procedures disputed these claims (of course), saying that these patients had already had botched surgeries, or that the patients did not follow post-surgery care instructions, or that they had signed pre-surgery statements that acknowledged the potential side effects.

Another clinic, claimed it could not locate the patients file as “its records are in Korean and do not contain the patients’ names in Chinese”.

don't take part in medical tourismDr. Kulick has lectured extensively in Korea.  He was invited to speak because they wanted an expert in the field of plastic surgery to teach them.

Dr. Kulick knows there are many, well-trained physicians in Korea that take the time to learn about the procedures and technology.  They have proper informed consents, follow strict guidelines and provide quality care.  However, he treated a woman who had “something” injected into her nose to raise the bridge.  When the nose started to flatten out, MORE of the unknown material was injected.  Finally, she came to see Dr. Kulick who had to use a laser to vaporize the material, which looked like silicone.  He then had to provide an implant that provided the lasting result the patient wanted originally.

Check out before and after photos here!


Find a board-certified plastic surgeon that you feel comfortable with, who’s a partner in your health, safety and beauty.

Call our office to learn more about the safe, effective and proven options open to you! (415) 956-2550

Dr Michael KulickDr. Michael Kulick, MD is a leading board certified plastic surgeon in San Francisco, California. During an initial consultation, he’ll examine your individual anatomy, discuss all your options, and create a unique treatment plan along with any other necessary procedures. If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of plastic surgery and are looking for a qualified cosmetic surgeon, use this online form to request a consultation with Dr. Kulick or call 415-956-2550.