Boob jobs, more appropriately termed as breast augmentations, are increasingly popular amongst:
- Younger ladies seeking a fuller cup size
- Women who’ve gone through pregnancy and breastfeeding, and want to reverse the “deflated” appearance of their breasts
While many Singaporeans choose to have their breast augmentation performed locally, a significant proportion elect for countries such as South Korea and Thailand.
In my years of practice, I’ve seen both friends and patients return from breast implant surgery abroad. Unfortunately, I’ve also had to manage some complications and unsatisfactory results from their overseas breast augmentation (that’s not to say those done locally don’t have complications as well!)
This got me thinking about why people choose to go overseas for breast augmentation, and some of the associated hidden pitfalls.
If you’re still deciding between having your breast augmentation in Singapore or abroad, below is my personal pros vs cons analysis for you to make a more informed decision. After all, that’s what we, as doctors, all want – for our patients to have the best possible care and treatment outcomes, regardless of whom they choose to turn to.
Why do Singaporeans go to Thailand and Korea for breast augmentation?
It’s easy to see why some Singaporeans choose to have their breast augmentation done overseas.
- Firstly, there’s the price factor. It’s often a few to several thousand dollars cheaper to have your surgery done in Thailand. While the price difference is much less so in South Korea, one can still find a cut-price surgeon in Seoul quite easily.
- Secondly, there’s the attractive preposition of a holiday thrown in with the surgery. Nothing quite like touring the streets of Myeongdong after your surgery is performed in Gangnam – or at least, that’s what some of my patients tell me.
- Thirdly, there’s the branding involved, where patients are drawn by the idea of having a Korean plastic surgeon operate on you.
With all these attractive benefits of going overseas for breast augmentation, why would anyone have it done locally?
Why is breast augmentation cheaper in Thailand and Korea?
Well, if you stopped for a moment and considered carefully, have you ever wondered why Thailand and Korean doctors can offer breast augmentation at such cheap prices?
1. Cost of breast implants overseas, versus the cost of breast implants in Singapore
A pair of silicone breast implants in Bangkok costs USD$500, while a pair of silicone breast implants in Singapore costs SGD$2200.
This begs the question, are they of the same quality? And if not, would you accept a lower quality breast implant placed in your body (permanently), just to save on price?
2. Breast augmentation overseas is profitable due to volume work
Many setups in Seoul and Bangkok run on a volume basis. This means that they accept lower profit margins, but try to perform as many surgeries as possible. It’s probably not the best idea to have a tired surgeon operating on you.
More surgeries within a day also translates to a much reduced time spent with your doctor. I can’t over-emphasize the importance of the pre-operative consult, where time is taken to choose a proper implant according to your needs and wishes. This is crucial for you to achieve your desired outcome.
I had a patient who was originally planned to undergo breast augmentation by myself after a holiday to Bangkok. Unfortunately, she followed her friend to a Thai surgeon who, in her own words, gave her 10 minutes to pick an implant from a tray of implants, then proceeded to perform the breast augmentation on her an hour later.
As expected, she was dissatisfied with the size, shape and symmetry after the procedure. I had to replace those breast implants when she returned to see me.
3. Non-accredited doctors performing breast augmentation
Doctors performing the surgery abroad may not even be accredited plastic surgeons. I’ve visited clinics in Korea (where I did my fellowship), Thailand and China, and I’ve personally seen cosmetic surgery clinics helmed by general surgeons, dermatalogists, general practitioners and so on. You may not even realize that a non-plastic surgeon is putting in your breast implants because you are unfamiliar with the language.
This problem isn’t unique to only Thailand, China and Korea – it’s prevalent even in the United States. MOH however, has strict regulations against non-accredited doctors performing breast augmentation in Singapore.
Benefits of breast augmentation in Singapore
1. No language barriers
Speaking English or Chinese may get you somewhere in the departmental store or restaurant, but unless you speak fluent Korean or Thai, you’ll not make much headway with your medical consult abroad.
While many clinics employ translators for this purpose, there’s a reason for the term “lost in translation” (incidentally, one of my favourite movies). You definitely don’t want any misinterpretations when dealing with invasive surgery.
2. Post-operative care in Singapore
Post-operative care is just as important as the procedure. The process doesn’t just end after the surgery is done. Unfortunately, not many patients realize this.
Think of it like the after-sales service when you buy your car or renovate your house. Should you require post-operative help or want to touch-up something after the surgery, you’d really want to avoid a situation where you have no recourse.
If I were a patient, I can’t imagine having to fly back to Korea or Thailand each time I wanted to see my surgeon, or wanted something corrected.
In fact, some less than reputable clinics in Korea and Bangkok choose not to correct these post-operative issues, resulting in patients protesting outside these clinics after botched jobs. I’ve seen multiple TV documentaries showcasing this.
3. Singaporean doctors can better manage any complications
No surgery is completely free of complications. Although breast augmentation is a relatively low-risk procedure, one of the most-feared complications is breast implant infection. This requires removal of the implant.
I distinctly remember a case I managed of a young 22 year old girl who had breast implants done in Bangkok. She developed mycobacterial infection of her breast implants, which required implant removal and a thorough washout. Anecdotally, mycobacterial infections tend to be of a high frequency for cosmetic procedures performed in Thailand.
Mycobacterial infections unfortunately tend to be very difficult to treat, and she ended staying in hospital for a few weeks. She also needed treatment for a persistent discharge from her breast wounds.
There’s a happy ending to this story – she subsequently got married and had children, although she never went for a repeat breast augmentation.
Despite the cases quoted, I’ve seen patients with nice results from breast augmentation done overseas. I simply want you to understand the pros and cons if you’re thinking of going overseas.
I think I speak for my fellow plastic surgeons as well when I say that we don’t just want to do your surgery. We’d much rather build a long-term relationship, where we’re able to take care of our patients many years down the line. This enables us to maintain the best sustained aesthetic outcome for you.
If you’ve got any further plastic surgery or cosmetic-surgery related questions, please head over to Ask DxD to ask away!
Dr Samuel Ho is a plastic surgeon at Allure Plastic Sugery. He has worked alongside top plastic surgeons at plastic surgery centres in Korea, such as the Hanyang University Hospital, 101 Plastic Surgery Clinic and BIO Plastic Surgery Clinic. Aside from regular work, Dr Samuel is a supporter of a not-for-profit medical volunteer organization that provides reconstructive facial surgery to young children in Indonesia.