The Low Down on Smile Surgery

Korean plastic surgery news has a tendency to go viral or become meme worthy, especially when before and after pictures get coverage. From beauty pageant contestants to KPOP stars, Korean plastic surgery is getting an international spotlight. Most recently a photo of a woman with a curled up smile went viral this past month and began stirring up an online blogging frenzy with controversial headlines that were in dismay about the procedure, and giving a bad wrap for Korean plastic surgery. Some stories made it out as if all Koreans are crazy about having ‘Joker-like’ smiles on their faces. Trust us, the story way over-hyped and their are not people walking all around Gangnam with upturned lips.


It’s yet to be determined if the original photo below, which sparked the media backlash is authentic, but the actual procedure is real, and AONE Plastic Surgery, a clinic specializing in the surgery has publicly commented on it.

jokerPlastic surgeons in Seoul claim they are seeing more demand for the “smile surgery” procedure, especially among young professionals in their 20’s and 30’s who are worried about receiving criticism at work regarding their facial expressions. From my experience working in Seoul, I can say say this is a valid concern concern or annoyance. I naturally have a serious face when I’m out and about. Even if I’m in good mood, I have random colleagues stop me and say things like, “Are you OK? you look sad, angry, etc…” I’m always caught off guard when people say this to me, but sometimes I just want to reply back with, “mind your business” But I just leave it at that, it doesn’t bother to the point of thinking of having my lips curled upwards surgically, but in Korea your image speaks volumes.

It’s a legitimate concern to factor in your appearance when it comes to your success in the game of life here. It’s easy to pass negative judgement on that statement, but to really sympathize and understand, you have to be living, working and going through the daily grind here.

“Even when you are looking like your normal self, people keep asking you: ‘Why are you frowning?’” said Kwon Taek-keun, a plastic surgeon of Aone Plastic & Aesthetic Surgery in practice for 20 plus years and among the first in Korea to popularize the procedure. “That’s a lot of stress.”

The pictures and video clips that Dr. Kwon’s clinic, Aone Plastic & Aesthetic Surgery, posted online have caused some shock recently, with media outlets comparing it to the Joker from Batman films.

But the cosmetic surgeons who carry out the procedure argue people, young and old, come psychologically scarred by hurtful remarks about their naturally downturned lips, especially if they have customer-facing roles. Services-industry workers such as flight attendants and consultants frequent the clinics, according to the surgeons. –  “Surgeons Defend ‘Smile Surgery’” – Wall Street Journal

In the west the procedure is known as “Valentine anguloplasty” because of the heart shape of the muscle tissues at the lip’s edge that are removed. Smile surgery was first created as one segment of an overall anti-aging face lift. The reason being that the lips would not go back to the original upturned position after doing a standard tightening of drooping face parts, so an extra lip focused procedure became necessary, said Kwon.

South Koreans are the world’s primary adopters of plastic surgery procedures with the highest number of cosmetic surgery procedures per capita, according to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons – the area around the mouth was uncharted territory, and it goes to show the innovation that Korean surgeons are making in the area. This year the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, in recognition of the advancements that Korean surgeons have made in the field, will be highlighting and inviting Korean surgeons at their annual convention taking place this October in San Diego, California.

Some Korean clinics now claim they have more than 15 different procedures for the lip and the mouth, including enlargement, reduction and gum exposure reduction. The most popular procedure? The smile surgery, according to Dr. Cha Seung-youn at ZIEN Plastic Surgery.

“Your eyes and mouth make up the most of your facial expression,” said Dr. Cha.

With an average cost of up to $2,000, the perfect smile is not cheap, and Dr. Song warns that consistent care will be needed over a three-to-six months of the recovery period, so this may not be ideal for international patients who don’t plan on coming back to Seoul for follow up treatments.

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