Plastic Surgery Booming in China

Apr 25, 2011, 15:42 by Greg Stacy

Plastic surgery is booming in China, and it's become the most popular way to spend discretionary income after houses, cars and travel.

Ma Xiaowei, China's vice health minister, says that the demand for plastic surgery has exploded in the last decade, as the number of upwardly mobile Chinese people has surged. At a conference organized by the Health Ministry late last year, Ma said that the number of cosmetic procedures is doubling every year.

"We must recognize that plastic and cosmetic surgery has now become a common service, aimed at the masses," he said.

While no official numbers are available, in 2009 the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery estimated that there are more than two million plastic surgery procedures per year in China, ranking the nation third behind the United States and Brazil.

Face-lifts and wrinkle-removal treatments are popular, just as they they are in the West, but the most frequent procedure in China is one that has nothing to do with turning back the clock.

Zhao Zhenmin, secretary general of the government-run Chinese Association of Plastics and Aesthetics, told The New York Times that China's most popular cosmetic surgery is designed to make the patient's eyes appear larger by adding a crease in the eyelid, forming a Western-style "double eyelid." He said that the second most popular procedure is done to make the bridge of the nose more prominent - exactly the opposite of most nose jobs in the West - and the third most popular procedure involves reshaping the jaw to make it longer and narrower.

Many of these procedures are performed on younger patients who are trying to improve their employment prospects, teenagers who were given cosmetic surgeries for high school graduation presents and even kids in middle school.

But as plastic surgery booms in China, the country's regulatory system is lagging behind. When 11 clinics and hospitals offering cosmetic or plastic surgery were inspected, Ma said at the conference last year, fewer than half met national standards.