Beware of glowing reviews on blogs that omit risks

Just over a year ago, 18-year-old American social media megastar Kylie Jenner went from a pretty, but largely unnoticed, teenager to a curvy bombshell - complete with plumped-up lips, a seemingly sharper nose and a sudden, and very enviable, derriere.

Closer to home, the slender, V-shaped faces of Korean actresses such as Song Hye Kyo and Han Hyo Joo can be found splashed all over Instagram, often accompanied by user comments cooing over the stars' porcelain skin, high cheekbones and doll-like, delicate features.

Gone are the days when it was taboo for young women to discuss getting a few nips and tucks.

These days, just a few clicks is all it takes to get every juicy detail and picture documenting the plastic surgery journeys of Singapore bloggers such as Ang Chiew Ting (aka Bong Qiu Qiu) and Wendy Cheng (aka Xiaxue).

As a result, it is becoming increasingly common for young women to go under the scalpel to achieve their perfect look.

Many times, patients come to me quoting glowing reviews they have read on blogs, not realising that these posts may be sponsored and may not highlight all the risks involved in a medical surgery.

PLASTIC SURGEON LEO KAH WOON, who cautions patients against being swayed by idealistic experiences they see online

Five doctors interviewed say that on average, one in five patients they see now is under the age of 21.

Plastic surgeon Ng Siew Weng of Sweng Plastic Aesthetic and Reconstructive Surgery, says: "Just 10 years ago, Singapore was very conservative. We are now following the Korean path - in that people are becoming more open about discussing their imperfections and accepting of plastic surgery to fix their issues."

He contends that the rise of social media and celebrities "coming clean" about the work they have done have undoubtedly increased acceptance of plastic surgery here.

Another phenomenon driving the plastic surgery boom among the young? The rise of beautifying and enhancement apps that can digitally alter selfies, for example, letting women make their noses slimmer and eyes bigger with just a few taps on their smartphone.

Plastic surgeon Leo Kah Woon of Dr Leo Aesthetic Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery, says of the trend of young women requesting double-eyelid surgery or rhinoplasty: "Not only do these apps make people more critical of their appearances, they've also increased requests from patients who want to look like their digitally altered selves in reality."

And parents do not seem to mind either.

In fact, according to doctors The Straits Times spoke to, many parents accompany their children to every doctor's appointment.

Dr Wong Chin Ho of W Aesthetics Plastic Surgery, who is also president of the Singapore Society of Cosmetic (Aesthetic) Surgeons, says: "It's not uncommon to have older patients I've done procedures on come back with their children when the younger ones want to get some work done."

Dr Ng says:"It's evident that the parents have discussed the matter with their children and are accepting of the surgical procedures.

"That's a big change from the way it was a few years ago."

Still, despite the increase in acceptance from parents and society, plastic surgeons here are quick to caution young patients against consistently going under the knife to achieve the elusive goal of physical perfection.

Besides the emotional, physical and financial maturity required to upkeep plastic surgery, Dr Leo cautions against being swayed by glowing accounts that many people share on YouTube and on blogs.

He says: "Many times, patients come to me quoting glowing reviews they have read on blogs, not realising that these posts may be sponsored and may not highlight all the risks involved in a medical surgery.

"The websites of foreign plastic surgery clinics also put up before and after images to entice clients, but these are often just their chosen handful of best results."

In accordance with Ministry of Health regulations, Singapore clinics are not allowed to show before and after images on their websites.

Doctors here say they reject anyone whom they feel has unrealistic demands or a long history of procedures which may point to body dysmorphic disorder - a psychological disorder in which a person becomes obsessed with imaginary defects in their appearance. They often refer such patients to a psychologist or psychiatrist.

A doctor specialising in aesthetic medicine, Dr Georgia Lee of TLC Lifestyle Practice, says that she turns away patients who she feels are too young or will not benefit from the treatment in terms of cost and time.

Other medical practitioners such as Dr Wong and Dr Ng say they also refuse to provide treatment if they feel the bone structure of the patients might not be fully developed or if they are in the pubescent phase of their lives.

The doctors interviewed say they prefer to perform surgery only on patients aged 17 and older, whose bodies and skeletal systems have reached maturity. They would operate on those younger only on a case-by-case basis, mainly due to medical conditions, such as cleft lip.

Dr Ng says: "Looking good can definitely give someone a confidence boost, but there should be limits. The desire for perfection should not become an obsession."

Still, doctors here acknowledge that patients who are rejected here can easily seek treatments elsewhere, such as nearby countries including Thailand, Malaysia and South Korea, where treatments can cost nearly 40 per cent less than what one would pay here.

Some South Korean plastic surgery outfits also have offices in Singapore, such as Dream Plastic Surgery, which was the first plastic surgery clinic with a South Korean affiliation to open here in 2014. It also offers concierge services that help patients schedule appointments in Seoul.

Another renowned South Korean outfit, BK Medical Group Aesthetic Clinic, opened a branch at Novena Medical Centre in the same year. It offers video-conferencing services with its surgeons in Seoul.

In the end though, patients have to be discerning enough to make their own decisions about what kind of plastic surgery they want and where to do it.

Dr Wong says: "We can only provide consultation and give them advice and recommendations to the best of our ability.

"Plastic surgery, at the end of the day, is still a medical procedure and recovery can be a vulnerable time for patients. They should keep that in mind when making decisions about where, when and who they want to trust with their health.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 18, 2016, with the headline 'Beware of glowing reviews on blogs that omit risks'. Print Edition | Subscribe