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Surgery room in South Korea

In the plastic surgery capital of the world, beauty doesn't have to be genetic

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SEOUL, South Korea (Circa) — A constant yet distinct beep echoes throughout the ninth floor hallway of BK Hospital, the largest plastic surgery hospital in South Korea.

Beep, beep, beep.

Behind the sliding wooden doors of OR 10-3, Dr. Do Eon-rok, a board certified plastic surgeon, carries out a task that's become so routine for him: performing a double-eyelid surgery on a female patient.

"In my opinion, Koreans tend to have a high taste of beauty," he said. "So, to satisfy their high taste, plastic surgeons in this country have to be very specialized and we have to develop many surgical techniques."

The double-eyelid surgery, which involves reshaping the skin near the eye to create a fold in the upper eyelid, ranks as the most popular surgery in South Korea, and the third most popular worldwide, according to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. During the busy season, Dr. Do says he performs about 10 per day.

South Korea Gangnam Startups
In this Friday, Nov. 21, 2014 photo, people pass by posters advertising plastic surgery clinics in Apgujeong station at the Gangnam district in Seoul, South Korea. StyleShare, a social networking service where users share fashion photos and tips, is another startup that went to Gangnam to stay close to the pulse of the latest fashion trends and consumer culture. Its office is a couple of minutes of walk from Apgujeong subway station where walls are plastered with ads for plastic surgery clinics. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

In one sense, the double-eyelid surgery has redefined Korean beauty standards, becoming the cultural norm and rite of passage for Korean women. Some even are gifted the operation after they graduate high school, according to local reports.

Most, if not all, of the surgeries here in Seoul are performed along the streets of Gangnam, a wealthy district in the country's capital. Commonly referred to as "Seoul's beauty belt," this stretch of downtown is home to more than 500 plastic surgery clinics alone. Walk down these bustling sidewalks and it's nearly impossible to ignore the dozens of plastic surgery advertisements showcasing beautiful women and the latest surgical techniques.

"The oriental eyelid and rhinoplasty and fat graft is more specialized in Korea and Japan," Dr. Do added. The plastic surgery techniques in Korea differ from those from Los Angeles or any other part of the world.

That expertise is exactly what led 26-year-old Kim Yung-jun to BK Hospital to get a nose job. Even though he's a man, he says it's pretty commonplace to go under the knife.

"Since I was a kid, my older sister and girlfriends told me that I would look more masculine if I get my nose done. So I came here. I feel good as I could gain more popularity from others."
Kim Yung Jun (translated from Korean to English)

Young Bae-sun is another Korean who appears to be chasing society's version of perfection. She's already had work done on her eyes and nose, and now she's back to get some touch ups.

"I came back because I felt like I needed more work on my nose after I heard comments that it did not seem like I got surgery," she said in Korea. "As a woman, even at work, the trend prefers a pretty face. In my case, I would feel bad."

According to the most recent data available from the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, plastic surgeons in South Korea performed close to 2 million operations in 2015. South Korea is the mecca of plastic surgery, performing the most procedures per capita in the world.

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And though plastic surgery is popular among native Koreans, it has also attracted international attention. Medical tourism, according to a report conducted by Research and Markets, is an industry whose value could surpass $2 billion by 2022.

Jia Luo made the trip all the way from Hong Kong to get treatment in Korea on the two folds of skin that run from each side of her nose to the corners of her mouth.

"Because Korea's cosmetic surgery techniques are quite advanced, lots of people feel that Korea's cosmetic surgery is better," she said. "So I thought it's better to experience it in Korea."

For now, the pressure to meet certain beauty standards in Korea doesn't seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. But it has recently gotten the attention of government officials. After receiving nearly 1,200 public complaints, Seoul metro said it would ban plastic surgery ads from its stations by 2022, according to The Korea Times.

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