Today, highly advanced methods in plastic surgery from Korea yield rapid recoveries and natural results, but these methods are not trending in the United States. In fact, few have heard of them.
Dr. Kenneth Kim, board-certified plastic surgeon at Dream Medical Group in Los Angeles, says US patients are not the only ones in the dark. “As American plastic surgeons, we do not hear about Korean techniques at our national meetings or in our universities.”
Dr. Kim has trained in plastic surgery in the US and Korea and in addition to having his own practice, he also teaches in the department of plastic surgery at UCLA and Seoul National University.
Oddly enough, Dr. Kim notices these techniques beginning to trend in one place outside Korea: on construction sites. “Koreans are doing a lot of building in the Middle East,” he explains. “You know that Samsung makes smartphones and TVs, but did you know that they also built structures like Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building? When building and city planning executives noticed Korean contractors offering a level of detail and sophistication head and shoulders above that of European and American contractors, they began seeking out Korean plastic surgeons for elective procedures for their family and friends. When they saw how much attention to detail impacted construction, they wanted it in their plastic surgery as well.”
Traditional plastic surgery vs. new techniques from Korea
In the West, techniques used during plastic surgery evolved from those used during general surgery. After all, plastic surgeons first receive training in general surgery and then specialize.
During general surgery, if patients have a tumor, doctors cut it out and then close it. Likewise, during plastic surgery, if patients have excess fat or skin tissue, plastic surgeons nip and tuck.
For example, when a patient has excess skin on their upper eyelids, a plastic surgeon cuts it away and closes it. However, that patient has a natural crease around their eye. Unfortunately, when doctors stretch the eyelid, the natural crease loses its natural integrity.
“Imagine an extra-large shirt that needs to be a size small,” comments Dr. Kim. “Cutting away excess material will make the shirt smaller, but it will not create a natural fit. When professional tailors resize garments, they have to consider every seam and nuance of the fabric.”
Plastic surgeons typically cut excess skin and fat without recreating the skin’s original creases, and the outcome is a tight, unnatural look. By contrast, Korean plastic surgeons bring a new level of attention to detail to their work. They incorporate cutting-edge tools and techniques to offer results that look natural, not stretched.
Korean plastic surgery restores muscle function
Another common problem related to upper eye surgery is that a patient’s eyes no longer appear symmetrical and look tired. This happens because doctors focus on the eyelid skin and fat, but not on the underlying muscles that lift the eyes.
“Our bodies are composed of interconnected layers of skin, fat, muscle, and bone,” Dr. Kim explains. “In America, plastic surgeons focus primarily on removing excess skin and excess fat. When they are forced to work with muscles, they simply pull and reattach them. However, when you do no more than stretch a muscle, it causes the area to appear unnatural and does not improve the muscle’s function.”
Rather than merely pulling muscles, Korean plastic surgeons take special care to restore their function. To do this, they must evaluate how the muscles work during the procedure. Instead of operating while patients are under general anesthesia, Korean plastic surgeons completely numb the area with a local anesthetic. With a technique called Awake surgery, Korean plastic surgeons can actually ask patients to open and close their eyes as they operate.
“When Korean plastic surgeons consider muscle function, patients can open and close their eyelids properly afterward,” Dr. Kim remarks. “In addition to involving less effort, this also makes patients look brighter and more alert.”
What is behind the plastic surgery advances in Korea?
To understand what’s driving these advanced techniques in Korea, it helps to examine the differences between American and Korean facelifts. Essentially, American surgeons pull facial skin upward, resulting in a stretched and unnatural appearance. Because the skin is still attached to the muscle beneath, it sags into its original place over time.
Rather than pulling facial tissue upwards during facelifts, Korean surgeons meticulously detach and reposition it without overly tightening or stretching. They developed these techniques out of necessity.
“In terms of plastic surgery, Asian patients are at a disadvantage,” Dr. Kim remarks. “On the whole, Korean people have heavier soft tissue, and it is more densely attached. This means their skin does not pull easily, and this explains why Korean doctors do not rely on pulling tissue while it remains tethered.”
Because Korean surgeons could not rely on pulling and stretching, they researched the vital nerve and muscle anatomy that would allow them to release tissue, reattach it, and restore natural function and appearance. They approached plastic surgery through the lens of physics and biomechanics.
Plastic surgery is all about the mechanics of moving tissue. When surgeons keep this in mind, they achieve long-lasting results that look natural. When they do not, they end up with a temporary fix and a stretched appearance.
“Have you ever wondered why so many patients undergo multiple facelift surgeries in America?” asks Dr. Kim. “While American plastic surgeons release some tissue, they do not go far enough. The results just don’t last.”
Greater precision in Korean plastic surgery leads to faster recovery times
Even though Korean plastic surgery is more involved, it is much less traumatic. This is because it avoids damaging surrounding tissue.
“If you are not precise enough, you hit blood vessels and cause bleeding,” says Dr. Kim. “With enough precision, you don’t have to hit those vessels. To stop bleeding, traditional plastic surgeons often create more tissue trauma by cauterizing wounds.”
To illustrate how unique this precision is, people can think back on the technique of Awake surgery. Korean plastic surgeons regularly perform procedures such as facelifts or breast augmentations while patients are fully awake. During the surgery, patients feel no pain, and within moments after the surgery, they walk on their own without any need for pain medication.
“Surgery doesn’t mean you have to have pain,” says Dr. Kim. “If surgeons avoid hitting nerves and traumatizing tissue, they avoid pain and bruising. This level of attention we’re talking about takes bioengineering and biomechanics to the cellular level. It requires cutting-edge equipment, revolutionary techniques, and a knowledge of anatomy far above that needed in traditional plastic surgery.”
These techniques are still largely unknown in the US, and Dr. Kim believes patients will continue to accept the status quo until they learn what is available. “People settle for nip tucks and unnatural results,” he concludes, “but they could have so much more. Korean plastic surgery offers true facial transformation.”