The increasing demand for cosmetic treatment

Malaysia is one of the best nations for medical tourism due to its low cost and high standard of healthcare, says APHM president 


EVERY year, approximately 14 million people around the world travel to other countries to seek medical treatment. 

Although the Covid-19 pandemic had a crippling impact on the global medical tourism industry, declining 46.9% in 2020 compared to the previous year, it is expected to rebound to pre-pandemic levels soon. 

According to the United Nations’ World Tourism Organisation, international tourist arrivals almost tripled in the first seven months of 2022 (172%) compared to the same period last year, meaning that the sector recovered to almost 60% of its pre-pandemic capacity. 

The reopening of borders and relaxing of Covid-19 restrictions in most countries will have these medical tourists packing their bags again and allow the market to slowly recover from losses during the pandemic. 

Patients mainly travel overseas for medical treatment due to the varying availability of technologies and medical professionals, as well as differing treatment cost for different conditions. 

Among the procedure that may cost less in certain countries include cosmetic treatments for, among others, body fat, dental and facial alteration. 

Demand for this type of treatment is driven by the increased awareness among the new generation towards their physical appearance. 

A billboard in a Seoul subway station advertises jaw surgery. It has been reported that 1 in 3 Korean women has undergone plastic surgery (pic: AFP)

The Top Destinations for Cosmetic Treatment

South Korea is widely popular for having an image-conscious culture where it is known for its skincare and make-up trends. 

It has been reported that one in three Korean women had undertaken plastic surgery therefore it is no surprise that it is one of the top destinations for cosmetic treatment. 

The South Korean cosmetic treatment industry also keeps itself up-to-date with technological advancements with the use of 3D modelling systems and robotics. 

Among the “bestselling” treatments are breast implant, facial reconstruction and laser surgery. 

Patients from as far away as the US and Western Europe will fly all the way to South Korea to enjoy the relatively lower-cost treatments Seoul has to offer. 

In South Korea, breast augmentation would cost approximately US$9,600 (RM45,312); rhinoplasty (to change the nose shape) around US$3,675; facelift surgery (US$4,200); blepharoplasty (to remove excess skin from the eyelids) between US$2,500 and US$4,500; and chin implant around US$4,500. 

In South-East Asia, Thailand has been crowned as the most popular destination for cosmetics enhancement in the region. 

Many patients would flock to “The Land of Smiles” from all over the world because they are able to undertake quality treatment at a lower cost. 

Thailand, among the top 20 destinations for global medical tourism, also offers advanced medical equipment and technology and rated very highly in terms of service quality and patient satisfaction. 

In the western hemisphere, the US is considered one of the biggest markets for cosmetic surgery with more than three million people seeking treatment every year. 

Another country on the list is Turkiye where hospital fees are 90% cheaper than what patients need to pay for in Western Europe or the US. 

Malaysia’s Cosmetic Industry

Malaysia is ranked among the top destinations for medical tourism in Asia, together with India, Thailand, Singapore and South Korea. 

According to the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) website, Malaysia is well known for its reputable and seasoned aesthetic practitioners and plastic and reconstructive surgeons who are registered with the Malaysian Medical Council (MMC) and hold valid practising certificates. 

It is also easy for foreigners to choose from the many private healthcare centres without having to go on a long waiting list for consultation and treatment. 

President of the Association of Private Hospitals Malaysia (APHM) Datuk Dr Kuljit Singh said Malaysia is one of the best nations for medical tourism due to its low cost and high standard of healthcare. 

“More tourists from Indonesia particularly pick Malaysia as their medical destination. Medical tourism also brings in a lot of revenue to other sectors like hotels and the hospitality industry,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) in an earlier report. 

The types of cosmetic treatments commonly offered here are aesthetic dermatology, reconstructive surgery, plastic surgery, oral and maxillofacial surgery and laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis (Lasik) surgery. 

Becoming a Hub for Cosmetic Treatment

The skin and subcutaneous disorders were the 4th leading cause of non-fatal disease worldwide in 2010 and 2013, says Dr Ko (pic source

The Asia Dermatology & Aesthetic Medicine Summit 2022 (Adams 2022) was held for the first time in Kuala Lumpur from Sept 24 to 25, 2022. 

The event aimed to enhance the country’s primary care dermatology and aesthetic medicine industry as well as provide 

medical practitioners with key information and insights from professionals from across the globe, and to ultimately make Malaysia the hub for aesthetic treatments internationally. 

The event was hosted by Ko Academy, a training facility by Dr Ko Skin Specialist. 

Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said medical tourism is one of the important sectors to fuel Malaysia’s economic growth and development. 

“I believe that if we continue to learn and improve from our neighbouring countries through these conferences and develop ideas with our highly skilled doctors and medical practitioners, we can place Malaysia on top of the medical aesthetics list in the South-East Asian region. 

“Adams 2022, being the first of its kind, will be a great platform to equip our local industry players with the information and insights needed…to take Malaysia to the next level in medical aesthetics,” he said in a statement. 

Adams 2022 organising committee chairman and Ko Skin Specialist CEO and founder Datuk Dr Ko Chung Beng observed a surge of foreign patients seeking medical aesthetic treatment soon after Malaysia’s ban on international travel was lifted. 

“I believe the medical aesthetic industry has ample room to grow. We are still a long way from seeing the peak of this industry. 

“The medical aesthetic industry is well regulated by the Ministry of Health. Hence, we can offer world-class medical aesthetic treatment with the highest standard and safety at a competitive pricing,” he said. 

Dr Ko also shared that skin and subcutaneous disorders were the fourth leading cause of non-fatal disease worldwide in 2010 and 2013, raising awareness on the importance of dermatology in the ever-expanding field of global health. 

“The future of dermatology lies in the efforts we make today in educating the next generation of dermatologists and aesthetic physicians. 

“We must come together as one to share our knowledge and work towards making ground-breaking discoveries that will aid a large number of people in the world and ultimately encourage healthy and youthful ageing,” he added. 

Meanwhile, Malaysian Society of Aesthetic Medicine president and Essence Clinic MD Dr Chin Shih Choon said Malaysia is quickly becoming a popular destination for enhancements including hair transplant, facial improvement and skin rejuvenation. 

“There is a steady increase of medical aesthetics tourists before the pandemic. And now that the borders are open again, there is a growing number of visits by medical tourists. 

“Most of the medical tourists are from South-East Asia, namely Singapore and Indonesia (but) we also have patients from Australia, New Zealand, the Middle East, as well as Europe,” he told TMR.

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition