'Smile surgery' all the rage among South Koreans

Before and after picture provided by Aone Plastic & Aesthetic Surgery

Cosmetic surgeons in South Korea are seeing an increase in patients seeking so-called "smile surgery" to lift the corners of their mouths and improve their self-images.

They say "you're never fully dressed without a smile," and some South Korean women have taken that message to heart, turning to plastic surgery in search of permanent, smiling faces.

The surgery, called a "smile lipt," combines the words lip and lift. According to a promotional video released by the Aone Plastic & Aesthetic Surgery center, the goal of the procedure is to create "a pleasant and memorable impression" that is "bright and gentle."

"Mouth corners play a crucial role in determining whether someone's impression is good or bad," the narrator says. "If mouth corners are sagging, it's a sad and angry facial expression."

It is not uncommon for South Korean women to seek cosmetic surgery to look more "Western" (the video notes that "Western people have longer mouths and higher mouth corners than Korean people"). In fact, when adjusted for population size, South Korea has the highest per capita rate of plastic surgery procedures performed, according to a report by the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons. The United States and Brazil top the list for the most plastic surgery procedures in total.

The favored South Korean beauty aesthetic features big, wide eyes, small noses and a narrow jawline, and popular procedures include nose jobs and eye surgeries to make those features appear more Caucasian. Some even undergo radical "double jaw surgeries" to create a slimmer, V-shaped chin and jawline, according to the Huffington Post.

The relatively new "smile-lipt" procedure is popular among those in their twenties and thirties who work in customer-facing jobs, such as in the service industry, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The video says the procedure works by surgically altering the muscles around the corner of the mouth: Weakening the muscles that pull down the mouth corners, and strengthening the muscles that lift the mouth corners. The procedure is marketed to patients with sagging mouth corners, patients with short mouths or asymmetric lips and "patients that are not confident with their smiles."

"Even when you are looking like your normal self, people keep asking you: 'Why are you frowning?'" Kwon Taek-keun, a plastic surgeon at the Aone center who performs the surgery frequently, told the Journal. "That's a lot of stress."

The Aone video says that men can also undergo the surgery, but suggests that a man's mouth corners should not be lifted as high as those of a woman, for fear of "making the masculine image rather frivolous."

According to the video, the procedure has a short recovery time. Patients can go outside the day after surgery and should expect to have their stitches removed after five days. They are cautioned to avoid opening their mouths too wide for about two weeks after surgery and warned that redness around the surgery site can take anywhere from three to six months to fade.

The surgery, which the Journal reported costs approximately $2,000, does not come without potential side effects,  including infection or scarring at the surgery site, persistent redness, asymmetry and under-correction or over-correction.

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