By Kenneth Kim, MD

Imagine an approach to plastic surgery that uses the body’s own natural processes to sculpt the face along its most attractive lines. This approach aims to reduce inflammation and scarring during operations, ensuring minimal patient discomfort and swift recovery. It also strives to achieve attractive and natural-looking results, potentially leading to greater social acceptance of cosmetic procedures, even among conservative populations.

This is the Korean approach to plastic surgery.

The Jung Sung Principle

In my experience as a plastic surgeon in the U.S., much of American plastic surgery involves cutting and pulling. These techniques often violate the natural tissue planes and even sever nerves. While this method may be fast and promise big results, it also results in unnecessary trauma, as the patient must endure pain and swelling as the tissues heal from the wounds inflicted during surgery.

On the other hand, Korean culture has a principle called jung sung, which means utmost dedication, or doing something sincerely with great care. According to this value, whatever you do, you try to do it right. There’s an emphasis on quality and dedication to your craft.

Applying this principle to plastic surgery, jung sung means the surgeon doesn’t just consider the superficial appearance of things. Instead, the surgeon works to restore youth in the most effective and safest way possible. This means more surgery isn’t automatically accepted as better, but rather that a more balanced approach is taken.

The Difference Korean Plastic Surgery Makes

Following the principle of jung sung, Korean plastic surgery is more careful and precise than American plastic surgery. When Korean plastic surgeons cut and sew, we carefully reset it to look natural like its original youthful state.  For example, when a skilled tailor shortens a sleeve, he does not solely remove the excess fabric. He also meticulously recreates the seem to make the final product appear unaltered.  

In addition, Korean plastic surgeons do not simply pull tissue. We carefully reposition the tissue by minimizing tension.

For instance, the tissue plane elevation technique keeps trauma to a minimum by following the tissues’ natural planes. The surgeon slows down and waits for the tissue to open up along its preexisting inclination. When the tissue separates in an uninterrupted layer, the nerves tend to be carefully preserved.

Since the patient usually doesn’t suffer pain during these procedures, sedation—whether general or intravenous—is usually unnecessary, along with its accompanying risks. In addition, patients’ recoveries are also pain-free. 

In short, the Korean method goes with the flow, employing the least invasive solution to achieve the individual’s goals. As a result, it also reduces pain, bruising, and swelling, as well as the chance of infection. Bleeding is minimal, and rather than compromising the muscles, the muscles can improve and become stronger. Heavy-duty painkillers are unnecessary, so Korean plastic surgeons don’t prescribe opioids. Patients not only enjoy superior outcomes regarding their appearance, but also they also benefit from faster recovery times.

Because of this approach, plastic surgery is easy, quick, and effective in Korea. Meanwhile, patients in the U.S. are subject to long recovery times and even run the risk of developing addictions, since the pain necessitates opioid prescriptions. Moreover, the results Americans get from their procedures do not always live up to their expectations.

Why Americans Are Turning to Korean Plastic Surgery

Even though Korea has a conservative culture, plastic surgery is popular, widespread, and socially accepted there because the Korean versions of these procedures achieve pleasing results with minimum trauma. With benefits like this, it should come as no surprise that Americans are seeking Korean-style cosmetic procedures as well, but there are other reasons, too.

For instance, global aesthetic trends currently place a premium on natural and subtle results, which plays into the strengths of the Korean approach. The “K-beauty” look—a demand for Korean-inspired beauty standards—is another reason Americans seek Korean cosmetic procedures. In my experience, more and more patients are asking for the smooth skin and well-defined facial structure associated with this aesthetic.

Increased awareness of Korean culture in the U.S. is also probably a contributing factor. The popularity of K-pop and other forms of Korean entertainment have influenced American beauty ideals, inspiring Americans to emulate the appearance of their favorite Korean celebrities.

The Wave of the Future?

By applying the principle of jung sung, Korean plastic surgeons achieve patients’ goals without causing undue trauma to the surrounding tissue. As a result, plastic surgery is largely painless and widely accepted in Korea.

In summary, as Americans become more aware of the benefits of Korean plastic surgery, the popularity of these procedures is likely to rise in the U.S.

Kenneth Kim, MD, is a board-certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon practicing in Los Angeles. He is an assistant clinical professor at UCLA School of Medicine, a partner of Dream Medical Group in Seoul, South Korea, and a clinical faculty at Seoul National University.