Illegal Plastic Surgery Ring Highlights Dangers of Plastic Surgery Tourism

Police in Mokpo, South Jeolla, South Korea, recently disbanded an illegal plastic surgery ring. According to reports by the Jeonam Regional Police Agency, the ring was headed by a 45-year-old woman with the last name of Lee, who ran a local hair salon. Though Lee’s salon was used for legal and legitimate salon practices, it was also used for illegal plastic and cosmetic surgery procedures, such as Botox injections, nose fillers, eyebrow tattooing and even double eyelid surgery.

Dr. Bruce Chau of Berkeley, Michigan, says this case is just one of many reasons patients need to beware when booking both low-cost domestic procedures as well as plastic surgery tourism packages.

“With foreign plastic surgery tourism, it’s difficult to know who exactly is performing your surgery, and how qualified they really are,” Chau says. “Add to that a language barrier, and you could end up at one of these salons, risking your life to save a few hundred dollars.”

Though these illegal practices are becoming increasingly common in the United States, Chau says they are a lot easier to verify if the patient does the research.

“Domestically, you have the benefit of state licensing boards and board-certification programs,” Chau says. “If you’re uncertain about a doctor’s qualifications, you can look up his license and certifications in multiple places. Overseas there may not be the same standards in place, or there may simply not be an easy way to check on those standards, even if they do exist.”

As for Lee, she and many of her associates, including drug suppliers and staff members of the salon, were arrested and are now facing a list of charges stemming from an alleged 353 illegally performed procedures.

“It’s great to see other countries taking the dangers associated with these illegal operations so seriously,” says Chau, “but the fact that it went on for two years shows that there’s still a lot of work to be done.”