Houses, Cars, Travel and…Cosmetic Surgery: How Discretionary Income is Spent in China

According to The New York Times, in China cosmetic surgery now ranks behind houses, cars, and travel as the fourth most popular purchase using discretionary income.  The International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery estimates that within China more than two million aesthetic plastic surgery operations are performed every year.  With the sharp increase in cosmetic surgery operations has come the development of a poorly regulated marketplace of facilities offering bargain-priced surgical procedures.  Beauty parlors, for example, are now sites for obtaining inexpensive Botox injections and undergoing China’s most popular cosmetic procedure, eyelid surgery.  Ma Xiaowei, China’s Vice Health Minister, describes the rapidly expanding industry as a health care “disaster zone”.  Harms to patients and patient deaths, including the death of a twenty-four year old former contestant from a Chinese reality television show, have resulted in calls for higher standards and better regulation.  In the interim, many Chinese citizens with sufficient finances are flying to South Korea for cosmetic surgery.  The Times reports that thirty percent of cosmetic surgery patients in Seoul, South Korea are visiting from China.  Along with an increase in the number of procedures has come a new attitude toward undergoing cosmetic surgery.  According to one woman quoted in the article, “Cosmetic surgery is now accepted in practically every household.  It’s not a big deal any more.”

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