Cosmetic surgery booming in Vietnam

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A plastic surgery to lift a flat nose being performed at a hospital in Vietnam

Le Thi Ngoc, a 29-year-old teacher from Phu Tho Province , recently consulted doctors at the 108 Hospital in Hanoi about a breast enhancement surgery.

She told Tuoi Tre newspaper: "I stopped breastfeeding my second child a year ago. I want a breast lift surgery to become as beautiful as other women."

More and more people are going under the knife for cosmetic purposes in Vietnam,  sparking a boom in demand for plastic surgery.

"The number of young customers having plastic surgery has doubled from a few years ago," Dr Nguyen Huy Tho, head of the 108 Hospital's plastic surgery department, said.

Tho has done breast lift surgeries for 176 women in the past five years, including for 10 aged under 25, and 109 others between 25 and 35.

"Around 18 percent of them had never had a child before the surgery," he said, adding that his patients varied from small traders to students and civil servants.

Dr Tran Thiet Son, head of the Plastic Surgery Ward at the Saint Paul Hospital in Hanoi, said 30 percent of patients bring along a photo of a movie star and ask doctors to make them look like their idol.

"There was a 25-year-old woman who was pretty but not satisfied with her appearance. She brought along a picture of Kim Tae Hee and asked for surgeries in four places on her face to make her look like the South Korean movie star."

Many other hospitals in Hanoi as well as in Ho Chi Minh City have reported an increase in cosmetic surgeries in the last few years.

Cho Ray Hospital in HCMC performs an average of 1,000 a year, mostly fat removal and on eyelids, noses, and breasts.

Dr Le Hanh, head of its plastic surgery department, estimated that around 100,000 people have cosmetic surgeries in the city every year.

Before 1975 the Vietnamese plastic surgery industry was a leader in the region, attracting many clients from other countries, he said.

After the Vietnam War ended in 1975, the industry slowed down until making a weak comeback in the 1990s, he said.

"It was only after 2000 that the industry developed quickly following an increase in demand."

Many public and private hospitals have since set up plastic surgery wards, he said.

"Even a district level public facility like Phu Nhuan Hospital now offers plastic surgery," he said.

The boom led to the establishment of the HCMC Plastic Surgery Association in 2007, and two years later the Pham Ngoc Thach Medical University and HCMC Medicine and Pharmacy University set up plastic surgery faculties.

Hanh said: "Not many universities abroad have plastic surgery faculties. At HCMC universities, students are trained in all kinds of plastic surgeries and intern at hospitals."

Many beauty salons have registered to offer cosmetic surgeries. Others act as agents for clinics and hospitals offering them, while many others perform surgeries illegally.

Plastic surgeons advise people to be prudent while choosing where to get their surgery done.

"A good plastic surgery clinic with a skilled doctor always informs patients about all the risks and possible complications from the surgery," a plastic surgeon, who wished to remain anonymous, said.

"People should be informed about the surgeon and relevant risks because no surgery is 100 percent safe."

An investigation by Tuoi Tre found that a majority of people choose to have cosmetic surgery at a facility they came to know through advertisements.

Many clinics make false advertisements, exaggerating their capability or claiming to be legal, the newspaper said.

A cosmetic surgery clinic on Le Hong Phong Street in HCMC's District 10 often claims to "perfectly fix plastic surgery mistakes [by others]" and offers "lifetime insurance" for its own surgeries.

Another clinic on Thu Khoa Huan Street in District 1 claims to be the "first and sole clinic in Vietnam" to have the technology to remove fat through laser surgery.

Many other clinics in Hanoi and HCMC also make similar dubious claims though many well-known surgeons warn that no one can guarantee that a plastic surgery will turn out exactly as expected or that there will be no complications.

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