More Singaporeans are seeking aesthetic treatments abroad, lured by low-cost flights, and the promise of paying a fraction of the price compared to what they would in Singapore. From thread lifts in Thailand to fillers in South Korea, the plan is to go for a minimally invasive procedure – while fitting in a holiday too.
These procedures are known as “tweakments”, a loose term used to describe minor cosmetic enhancements that are more subtle and natural than the more invasive ones that involve surgery.
While experts warn that a lot of research needs to be done before embarking on such a trip – and that one should not be carried away by the promise of a new face or body – the individuals we spoke to say they have done their due diligence, and seem to be reaping the benefits of getting work done at a more affordable price.
When Tina*, 31, had Korean Botox done in Seoul just earlier this year, cost was the deciding factor. She paid slightly under $200 for shots to the jaw area to treat her bruxism (a condition where you grind your teeth, especially while sleeping). She says the total sum she paid for the injections, including the cost of her hotel stay, turned out to be cheaper than doing the procedure in Singapore. She chose Seoul because these types of treatments are popular there.
“I understand aesthetic procedures are performed much more frequently [in Seoul], and have more faith in the doctors’ experience,” says the business professional. “Even with plastic surgery, the Koreans don’t seem to bat an eyelid. I spotted people wrapped in bandages shopping, eating and sightseeing without being stared at.”
Tina did as much research as possible, especially via forums and blogs. She eventually settled on a clinic that offered English-speaking assistance, and booked her treatment via an online medical concierge. She feels that the stigma surrounding tweakments is starting to wear off in Singapore, and people seem to be becoming more open about their experiences.
Where “Tweakments” are the norm
Alexis*, a 33-year-old who works in marketing, has done facials and laser treatments in cities such as Paris, Shanghai, Seoul and Tokyo over the years. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, she travelled a few times a year, and the idea of doing such treatments overseas really became appealing when she heard that her friends had done the same on their holidays.
“When I started researching, I realised that well-raved clinics or salons in other countries could cost the same as a regular salon in Singapore – and these are in major cities that you’d think would be more expensive than Singapore, based on their reputation,” she shares. “I started out by only trying facials, to make sure my research was reliable, and that these places were professional.”
Her experience made her realise how accessible tweakments are in some of these countries, and how much of a norm it was for the locals.
“In Singapore, there’s always a lot of hard-selling – they will push for you to buy packages – unless you go to a dermatologist-owned clinic, and not a general salon or clinic that has in-house dermatologists,” she reveals. “The problem with the former is their prices can be nearly double – or even more – that of South Korea’s trusted dermatology clinics.”
Alexis only books a treatment after doing extensive research. She starts with forums – a local version is a bonus – and looks for relevant threads based on the type of procedures or concerns she has. After lifting a few names of clinics or doctors, she then checks out their website or social media accounts, Google reviews, reviews by bloggers, and exhausts every search hit she gets.
She has done fillers in Kuala Lumpur, most recently in 2019. With international borders now mostly open, she has booked a tweakment trip to Seoul later this year for fillers and skin boosters.
“My fillers were $600-700/ml, not significantly cheaper than Singapore, but I took into consideration that she’s a well-reviewed doctor (even by magazines and influencers) and she has significant experience in achieving the kind of look I prefer,” says Alexis. “Plus, as a ‘first-time’ try, at least the proximity from Singapore to KL is near, if anything happens. However, you will definitely see significantly cheaper prices in places like Seoul.”
Note these red flags
Dr Karen Soh, medical director of Laser Clinics Asia, reveals that cosmetic treatments such as nonsurgical facelifts, as well as more invasive procedures like double eyelid surgery, rhinoplasty and fat grafting, tend to be sought after by Singapore women overseas. And they prefer travelling to countries such as South Korea, Thailand and Malaysia to get these procedures done.
Dr K K Chew, founder and medical director of NU.U Aesthetics & Wellness Clinic, says his patients have told him that aside from beauty tweakments, procedures such as double eyelid surgery, surgical rhinoplasty, botulinum toxins, fillers, PRP (platelet-rich plasma) treatments, and liposuction are popular for overseas consultations too. He also cites the three countries mentioned above as being the most popular ones.
These two experts warn of several red flags women should look out for. Dr Chew mentions over-aggressive sales tactics or low prices and exaggerated claims and results, as well as clinics with no lead doctors or doctors with dubious credentials.
He advises due diligence before deciding on the treatment, and to go for reputable clinics and hospitals, or those recommended by friends who have experienced their services.
“Treatments that require a good amount of post-operative care, such as abdominoplasty (tummy tuck) should be avoided. You can also seek advice from your trusted doctor,” he adds.
Dr Soh suggests ensuring that the doctor you book is the one performing the procedure for you and do note the possible language barriers and communication issues, given that some procedures are not easy (and sometimes not possible) to reverse.
“Also, look out for excessive marketing, even if they are reviewed by ‘influencers’,” she adds. “Remember, they are paid to say good things. Avoid being pulled into aggressive hard-selling too – for example, you could be booked in for eyelid surgery, but you might end up with a new nose, forehead and chin.”
Learn from experience
Having gone through cosmetic procedures overseas, Tina and Alexis have advice for anyone thinking of trying these tweakments too.
“Shortlist a few doctors, and make sure the clinic has English-speaking assistants to facilitate communication,” says Tina. “Don’t be pressured into treatments that you are uncomfortable with, but at the same time, be open to suggestions from the doctors.
“It really helps to have a friend or family member with you during the recovery process, as you might be quite incapacitated,” she adds. “Emotional recovery is going to be important as well, and I think it would be great if you have a nonjudgemental chat group or a friend with whom you can openly talk about your experiences.”
After doing enough Internet sleuthing, Alexis suggests contacting the clinics you have narrowed down. Be open about the treatment you’re looking to do, enquire about the price, let them know the dates you’ll be in town, and ask them what you should prepare before and after the procedure.
“If you’re down to a few choices and can’t decide, then look at what kind of effect (for fillers/Botox) you’re going for, or even the type of service or ambience you like,” she says. “Each clinic and doctor has their own speciality or strength, so a clinic may be well-reviewed, but the doctors they have may not be familiar with the aesthetic you want. The end result you desire is most important in guiding your research.”
Aside from researching the clinics, do also check out their procedures beforehand. There are a lot of resources online and testimonials from people who have done a specific treatment, so Alexis recommends reading as many as you can to understand the potential risks or side effects. She points out two other things to think about – down time, and whether a follow-up is needed. This is so you’ll know when to schedule your appointments.
“Some treatments like skin boosters create bumps on your skin, but have no need for a follow-up and are generally low risk, so you might want to schedule your appointment closer to the end of your trip,” Alexis explains. “If a treatment has a higher chance of side effects, I would plan for it as early as possible, so you have ample time for follow-ups with the clinic.”
Lack of consistent medical guideline
Even if there are some benefits to getting tweakments done overseas, exercise caution when doing so. One big reason is that you might not be aware of overseas medical guidelines.
Healthcare institutions in Singapore have to follow a strict code when publishing their medical services. And, when it comes to doctors, they are required to comply with the Medical Registration Act (Cap 174), as well as any ethical codes and relevant guidelines related to the professional standards in place in Singapore at the time of the procedure/their practice.
They also need a certificate of competence when performing certain cosmetic procedures, and there are guidelines for where certain procedures can be conducted. Lastly, there are guidelines for doctors in Singapore with regards to advertising too, such as not having misleading descriptions.
However, the same rules may not apply to foreign clinics as they may not come under local jurisdiction. Therefore, patients who get procedures done overseas do so at their own risk. This is why it’s crucial to research and ask around as much as possible, before committing to any procedure overseas.
Your tweakment checklist, according to experts:
- aesthetic treatments