High Demand Creates Black Market for Cosmetic Surgery in North Korea

NorthKoreaMakeup A North Korean woman works at a store in Pyongyang selling foreign beauty products.

South Korea is often called the plastic surgery capital of the world. Business Insider recently published an article that suggested as many as half of South Korea’s female population between 19 and 29 have undergone the knife for cosmetic reasons, and the procedures have attracted large numbers of women from around Asia.

Now, their sisters in the North are also getting in on the act, as cosmetic procedures in North Korea, where they are banned, are on the rise, sources say.

“Plastic surgery has been popular among women living in Pyongyang for quite some time, but now it is becoming a national trend,” a source in Ranggang Province told RFA’s Korean Service.

“The problem is some doctors offer illegal surgeries at home to make extra cash after putting their time in at the local hospital. There aren’t many plastic surgeons in North Korea so general surgeons and even nurses are moonlighting in this way,” the source said.

These illegal procedures do not always have the best results.

“Inexperienced doctors are working with shoddy equipment for extra money, so there are a lot of side effects,” the source said.

The source also said that the most popular surgeries are double-eyelid surgery (blepharoplasty) and mole removal. The two procedures “are in such high demand that doctors are even making house calls, meeting the patient in their home to do the illegal surgery there.” the source said.

“These illicit surgeries are so lucrative that more and more doctors are looking to get a piece of the pie,” the source said, adding, “The authorities say that they want to crackdown on illegal surgery, but they aren’t doing anything.”

Meanwhile, a source from North Hamgyong said, “North Korean women from Pyongyang and the larger border cities are very knowledgeable about plastic surgery culture in China and in the South. They are doing their best to make themselves look like South Korean women.”

“Some merchants are even making money by hiring doctors [and brokering their services],” the source said.

“The authorities have said that plastic surgery is ‘unhealthy capitalistic activity that rots our community,’” the source said. “They say they want to put a stop to it, but since all the illegal surgeries are done on the down low, they can’t really crack down on much of anything.”

Reported by Myung Chul Lee for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong

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