Cosmetic Surgery & Medical Beauty in Hong Kong: Is it Safe?

Last updated on August 26, 2021.

Cosmetic surgery in HK | Risks | Procedures | Scope | Common procedures | Common risks | Consent

Not many people will honestly say they wouldn’t like to look younger and more beautiful. Like any trend, the cosmetic industry has attracted the attention of entrepreneurs in Hong Kong looking to capitalize on our appetite for beauty. You may have seen a number of stories in local Hong Kong and regional Asian news about plastic surgeries and beauty procedures ‘gone wrong’.

There is some confusion about cosmetic plastic surgery and medical beauty procedures. In conjunction with pioneer plastic surgeon, Dr. Jimmy Yu-Wai Chan 陳汝威生, we explain the differences between the two and the risks you need to be aware of.

Cosmetic plastic surgery in Hong Kong

Cosmetic plastic surgery is defined as electively altering the appearance of a part of the body for aesthetic reasons. Amongst the most common plastic surgeries in Hong Kong are breast augmentation (silicone and/or fat graft), rhinoplasty, blepharoplasty (double-eyelid surgery) and liposuction.

Natural Breast Augmentation | Hong Kong Plastic Surgeon On Fat Transfers

Plastic surgery is a regulated and licensed medical profession in Hong Kong. Despite this, some physicians who are not properly trained in plastic surgery offer cosmetic surgeries in Hong Kong, often at a discount price. Any plastic surgeries should be done by a plastic surgeon who is listed on the Medical Council of Hong Kong’s plastic surgery specialist registry.

Plastic surgery risks

  • Most plastic surgeries require some level of local anesthetic and sedation. There is always a risk using anesthesia, including blood clots, pneumonia and death.
  • Edema (swelling).
  • Mild to excessive bleeding post-surgery. This may require additional surgeries or a blood transfusion.
  • Obvious scars.
  • Infection at the incision site. This could result in worse scars or require further surgeries.

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Medical beauty procedures

Beauty procedures often use complex machinery and techniques and there is currently nothing in place in Hong Kong to regulate who is able to use them. There is a recent trend of beauty clinics recruiting new medical degree graduates to use these machines. Just because someone is a medical physician, does not mean they necessarily understand the risks. It’s advisable to visit a dermatologist or plastic surgeon when considering medical beauty procedures.

The scope of beauty procedures in Hong Kong

The area is a bit grey when it comes to medical beauty procedures, defined as “procedures involving skin puncture, external application of energy, mechanical/chemical exfoliation of the skin and others (such as colon hydrotherapy and hyperbaric oxygen therapy) that may pose safety concerns”.

What are the most common medical beauty procedures in Hong Kong?

A few of the most common medical beauty procedures which fall under this definition are the following. 

Skin puncture such as:

  • Dermal filler injection
  • Botox injection
  • Skin whitening injection
  • Injection lipolysis
  • Microneedle therapy

Procedures involving the external application of energy such as:

  • Laser resurfacing (Class 3B and 4)
  • Intense pulsed light (IPL)
  • Infrared light
  • Pulsed magnetic field therapy

Procedures involving mechanical/chemical exfoliation of the skin such as:

  • Microdermabrasion
  • Chemical peel

A detailed list of cosmetic procedures deemed ‘medical beauty services’, including what must be performed by a medical practitioner can be found on page 4 in the Consumer Council’s report.

Common risks associated with medical beauty procedures

The risks vary greatly by procedure and location of the procedure. The below is a list of the risks for common procedures:

Skin puncture – Botox injections

  • Pain, swelling or bruising at the injection site.
  • Nerve injury
  • Headache or flu-like symptoms
  • Muscle weakness causing droopiness

Procedures involving the external application – Laser resurfacing

  • Redness, swelling and itching is very common and may last for several months
  • Acne
  • Infection
  • Bleeding
  • Changes in skin colour
  • Burns with improper machine use

Procedures involving mechanical/chemical exfoliation – chemical peel

  • Scarring
  • Changes in skin colour
  • Infection
  • Redness and swelling
  • Heart, liver or kidney damage

Lack of informed consent regarding potential side effects (including medically-safe but aesthetically unsatisfactory results) is a leading factor in both cosmetic surgery and patient complaints. According to the Consumer Council report, nearly 40% of people surveyed did not understand the risks of the medical beauty procedure they had undertaken. It’s important to understand potential side effects as long term damage is often preventable if you catch side effect symptoms early. Additionally, fewer than 50% of people had an idea of the qualifications of the person conducting the procedure. If you’re considering any intervention, it’s crucial you know the risks involved and who is conducting the procedure. Do your research!

Choosing the Right Cosmetic Doctor in Hong Kong | Expert Advice

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Reviewed by Dr. Jimmy Yu-Wai Chan 陳汝威生. Dr. Jimmy Yu-Wai Chan is a Clinical Associate Professor and academic head and neck surgeon at The University of Hong Kong, and an Honorary Consultant and Chief of the Division of Head and Neck Surgery and the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at QMH. He graduated from HKU in 1998 and pursued post-graduate training in Head and Neck Surgery at Queen Mary Hospital (QMH). He sub-specialised in head and neck oncology surgery and obtained a Master of Surgery in 2008 and Doctor of Philosophy in 2015. Dr. Chan pioneered several sub-specialties of plastic surgery in Hong Kong: namely burn surgery, pediatric plastic surgery and microsurgery. Dr. Chan has lengthy experience and expertise in the fields of aesthetic and reconstructive plastic surgeries.
This article was independently written by Healthy Matters and is not sponsored. It is informative only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be relied upon for specific medical advice.