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Despite the risky nature of cosmetic surgery, coupled with the problem of unlicensed ‘surgeons’, Cambodian women believe getting enhanced features will increase their fortune. Photo supplied

The risky quest for beauty in Cambodia

It goes without saying that beauty constitutes one of the most important aspects of life for many young females across the globe, and for many Cambodians, the risks associated in attaining beauty via cosmetic surgery are outweighed by the lure for perceived perfection.

While reconstructive plastic surgery can help people recover from birth defects and other such issues, cosmetic surgery is focused on enhancing the aesthetic appearance of a person in a bid to achieve one’s ideal perception of beauty.

At a fiscal and physical cost, however, cosmetic plastic surgery has many risks associated with it.

Dr Reid Sheftall, an aesthetic plastic surgeon at his own private clinic in Phnom Penh’s Central Hospital, shared with Post Plus that the general risks of any plastic surgery procedure are bleeding, infection and a poor aesthetic outcome.

He noted that the latter is the most common, as plastic surgery requires “a very astute aesthetic eye and precise rendering”.

“People get cosmetic surgery because they feel the benefits outweigh the risks,” he said.

“The smartest thing they can do is go to a good plastic surgeon.”

According to Sheftall, the most common cosmetic procedures his female clients request for include breast implants, liposuction of the abdomen, thighs and arms, breast lift, face lift, botulinum toxin (botox), and rhinoplasty.

Men, too, are increasingly drawn to the trend of getting liposuction and Gynecomastia (swelling of the breast tissue) correction.

Whereas there is always an inherent risk with surgery, cosmetic surgery in Cambodia is particularly a hefty gamble due to the oft-nonchalant presence of unregistered clinics or unqualified surgeons.

“About one-third of my practice here in Cambodia is focused on correcting mistakes made by other doctors,” Sheftall added.

“It is much more difficult to [correct surgery gone wrong] than to do it right the first time because the tissues have been damaged and scarred from the first surgery.”

Furthermore, Sheftall says people seeking out cosmetic surgery must take personal responsibility and do thorough research before taking the plunge.

“If you are having something done to your body, always make sure the person performing the procedure is a real surgeon and a real medical doctor,” he said.

“Do your homework. All clinics performing surgery in Cambodia are supposed to get approval by the Ministry of Health but some do not.”

According to Sheftall, the costs associated with cosmetic surgery in Cambodia can be about one-third of what it costs in developed countries such as Australia, Singapore or the US.

While it is understood non-registered surgeons still practise in popular cosmetic surgery hotspots such as Thailand, spokesman Ly Sovann from Cambodia’s Ministry of Health (MoH) said it was striving to shut down any illegal practices and unqualified surgeons in the Kingdom.

According to Sovann, though, 100 percent of all cosmetic hospitals or clinics performing cosmetic surgery are registered with the ministry.

“If there is a breakdown after the surgery, causing death or infection, we do an intervention to find out if it is the surgeon’s fault and we close them down right away,” Sovann reassured.

Sovann doesn’t deny that many people are ill-trusting of cosmetic surgeons in Cambodia. But, he added that the patient undergoes surgery at their own risk.

“It depends on the patient’s budget and [whether they can] afford local surgery or surgery abroad,” he said.

“Cosmetic surgery is quite risky; even in a developed country, related deaths are still reported,” he continued.

However, many are still willing to take the risk in the quest for beauty, with some Cambodians even believing that undergoing cosmetic surgery will bring them good luck.

Cambodian actress Deny Kwan, also the owner of Deny Salon, shared her encounter of having undergone cosmetic surgery at the Asia Cosmetic Hospital in Thailand.

“I’ve gone to Thailand for cosmetic surgery since before I was an actress a few years ago,” she said.

Kwan, in her early 20s, did not disclose what cosmetic surgery procedures she had received.

“I do not want to talk about my surgery specifically but I would suggest not to go for any cheap surgery in Cambodia,” said the actress, who has spent almost $10,000 on professional cosmetic surgery in Thailand.

Nonetheless, not everyone who desires to improve their appearance can afford to go overseas.

Singer Sok Silalin had rhinoplasty performed at Dermo Clinic Cambodia successfully last year.

“Honestly, I am not someone who is drawn into cosmetic surgery at all, but our facial appearances would bring us more luck,” she said.

She declined to reveal the cost of her surgery, but said it was reasonably priced and that she trusted the practice.

“Most of the surgeons there are from many other countries like Korea and France,” she said.

Despite Silalin undergoing surgery in Cambodia, she advises other young people to tread with caution and avoid ultra-cheap surgery. Cosmetic procedures that fall within the cheap category include breast augmentations costing a minimum of $2,500, whereas average prices range between $3,500 and $5,000.

“I am scared of surgery and I would not go to any place without knowing their background,” she said.

“If you decide to go through those [cheap] surgeries, keep in mind that you are risking your life.”

However, for some, risk is only a small factor in what is an enormous decision to undergo cosmetic surgery.

A 25-year-old senior TESOL student who wished to remain anonymous told Post Plus she had a nose job performed six years ago.

“I went to a Vietnamese cosmetic surgery in Phnom Penh for my nose job. It cost me around $700,” she said, adding that she did not encounter any complications after having silicone injected into her nose.

“I know it is dangerous. I had discussed with my parents about the surgery and the risk of having the operation in Phnom Penh instead of going abroad.”

The practice of injecting silicone into the body – even for breast augmentations – has ceased, with many rhinoplasty surgeons around the world coming to a consensus that silicone is particularly hazardous for facial ligaments.

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