Skull Reshaping? The Intriguing World of South Korean Plastic Surgery

Aesthetics Hub | 21 Dec 2018

Think of some popular cosmetic procedures in Australia: lip fillers, eyebag reduction, and cheekbone and jawline enhancement. Now, imagine treatments that provide the polar opposite effect: operations to decrease lip, cheek and jawline size, while increasing undereye puffiness. These procedures actually exist, with many electing to undergo these operations, in a bid to achieve some of South Korea’s lofty beauty ideals. Our resident K-beauty expert Kristina Zhou investigated...

Actress Park Min Young has openly admitted to undergoing eyelid and nose surgery. Image: @rachel_mypark
Actress park min young has openly admitted to undergoing eyelid and nose surgery. image: @rachel_mypark

In South Korea, a highly specific type of beauty is considered the universal cultural supreme. Jay Han, a JW plastic surgery consultant, tells Beauticate that V-shaped chins, with minimal jaw or cheekbone definition, are highly sought after. Round skulls, lifted lip corners, petite lips and slight puffiness under the eyes are also in demand. Jay explains that "although everyone has different tastes, there is a dominant cultural preference. For example, some Koreans lust after the Angelina Jolie pout, but smaller lips align more cohesively with a softer South Korean beauty ideal."



Full foreheads and round skulls are synonymous with youth and vitality in South Korea. Physiognomy (determining someone's fate and character based upon physical features) is still a powerful cultural phenomenon in South Korea - and these features represent increased wealth, intelligence and luck.

Surgical Procedure: An incision of 4-5 cm is made on the scalp. A bone cement implant is inserted and moulded onto the area of the skull that needs augmenting, to smooth over flat areas and provide a rounder shape. The patient's own fat can also be grafted onto their forehead to achieve more volume. 



Strong cheek and jawline definition are considered undesirable in South Korea, as these features are thought of as harsh and haggard. South Koreans feel high cheekbones and sculpted jawlines signify angst and are deemed overly masculine - a look that is far removed from the baby-faced ideal many Korean women chase after.

Surgical Procedure: Cheek and jaw bone is shaved from the face and is repositioned. Screws are then put in place where the bone has been excised, to hold the remaining bone structure together.



South Koreans favour a lower facial structure shaped in the form of the letter V. The V line face shape is highly coveted in South Korea as it gives the illusion of a more petite visage. South Koreans are enamoured with small faces, considering them a prerequisite to being considered beautiful. 

Surgical Procedure: Either an implant is inserted to create a more V-shaped chin, bone is shaved, or the chin is moved forward to project it further out. To narrow the lower face even more, excess fat and muscle can also be removed. A more invasive method called double jaw surgery goes beyond just jaw shaving: it involves completely detaching and realigning the upper and lower jaws to achieve a smaller face overall. The jaw is then wired for 6 weeks to maintain the newly aligned position.



South Koreans believe little pockets of fat situated just underneath the lower lash line create a more youthful appearance. These are supposed to be reminiscent of babies and the puffiness under their lash line when smiling.

Surgical Procedure: Undereye fat is repositioned to increase volume right beneath the eyes. Fat can also be removed from other areas of the body and injected underneath the eyes. 



A beloved makeup technique of South Korean women is the gradient lip, where a brighter colour is focused on the centre of the pout, whilst the outer area remains light. This helps to reduce the size of the lips, as contrary to the predominant Western beauty ideal, Koreans favour smaller lips to more voluminous pouts. Larger lips are considered overtly sexual and too strong, whereas smaller lips are deemed charmingly delicate. 

Surgical Procedure: Excess tissue is removed from the border of the lips and stitches are used to shape the new lip structure. If large lips are due to an overbite, patients can again opt for Double Jaw Surgery, where the upper and lower jaws are shifted and repositioned to decrease mouth protrusion. 



For South Koreans, projecting public feelings of unhappiness and angst is heavily stigmatised. In a nation where headshots are a mandatory requirement on resumes, a facial expression that appears angry or upset can actually hinder your employment prospects. Many seek plastic surgery that raises the corners of the mouth, to provide a softer and more cheerful effect. 

Surgical Procedure: At each corner of the mouth, an incision is made, skin is excised and loose muscle is lifted. 

Story by Kristina Zhou
This article first appeared in Beauticate.