As end to mask-wearing nears, Koreans scramble to arrange cosmetic surgery

SEOUL (CNA) – When Ryu Han-na, a 20-year-old university student, got cosmetic surgery on her nose in mid-December, she had a simple reason: It might be the last chance to do so covertly before people start taking off masks this year as vaccines are distributed.

Ryu, who has been attending her courses online throughout 2020, said the ability to recuperate at home and wear a mask in public without drawing attention were deciding factors.

“I always wanted to get a nose job… I thought it would be the best to get it now before people start taking off masks when vaccines become available in 2021,” she said as she prepared for the KRW4.4 million (USD4,013) procedure.

“There will be bruises and swelling from the surgery but since we’ll all be wearing masks I think that should help,” she added.

That attitude is fuelling demand for such operations in South Korea, which had already experienced a pickup in cosmetic surgery in 2020. The country has been a world capital of cosmetic surgery even during non-pandemic times.

The industry is estimated to be worth about USD10.7 billion in 2020, up 9.2 per cent year-on-year, and is expected to hover around USD11.8 billion this year, according to Gangnam Unni, the country’s largest online cosmetic surgery platform.

Cosmetic surgeons said patients are interested in all parts of the face: Those that can be easily hidden under masks, such as the nose and lips, as well as those that face coverings don’t conceal, which some consider the criteria of beauty in the coronavirus era.

Krismas Plastic Surgery Director Shin Sang-ho prepares to conduct a Botox injection in Seoul, South Korea. PHOTO: CNA