Photo above: A doctor explaining a cosmetic surgery procedure to a woman in her 50s.
SINGAPORE - Li Xuanhui, her hair neatly coiffed and black silk blouse perfectly pressed, steps into a beauty parlour.
She asks about the "new skin-tightening cosmetic surgery techniques" that it is promoting as she wants to have the wrinkles on her carefully powdered face removed.
"I feel young and want to look prettier," she tells an effusive beautician. "I'm only in my early 70s."
Li is just one of a growing number of elderly residents in Shanghai keen to go under the knife to improve their looks.
And medical aesthetic centres in Shanghai, known in China as early adopters of international trends, are happy to oblige.
Shiguang Plastic Surgery Hospital, for instance, has even come up with special promotions for elderly clients ahead of China's Chong Yang Festival, also known as Seniors' Day, which falls on October 23 this year.
"Last year, at our 'Let Youth Fly Longer' activity, we had more than 20 older customers come to our hospital to be assessed for various treatments, from removing wrinkles and scars to nose reshaping," said Shiguang spokesman Liu Qi.
"We have had people in their 70s coming for a facelift or to get rid of eyebags," she added.
Shiguang is among a growing number of licensed outfits that are seeing more patients aged 45 to over 80 come in for a nip and a tuck. It says the number of patients has grown by as much as 20 per cent a year.
There are no official statistics on how many senior citizens across China go for such enhancements. Still, more anecdotes have appeared in the news of late.
For instance, a public hospital doctor in central Wuhan city recounted a request last month from a 90-year-old man surnamed Luo to get rid of his eyebags as they "looked like small meatballs" and affected his looks, local official news site Jingchu Net reported.
Dr Ouyang Shanbei, who said she had performed the procedure on a 78-year-old patient previously, refused Luo's request because his high blood pressure made the surgery unsafe.
But Shanghai is where the market for cutting-edge cosmetic surgery techniques, even among the elderly, has already taken off in a big way.
"With rapid economic development and rising incomes, we have reached a stage where there is greater acceptance of cosmetic surgery," said Dr Li Qingfeng, president of the Chinese Association of Plastics and Aesthetics.
"More people are starting to go for enhancements to pre-empt and prevent ageing."
Shanghai handled an estimated 400,000 cosmetic surgery cases last year, or more than 10 per cent of the total in China.
And elderly clients make up a small - roughly 5 per cent to 10 per cent - but growing proportion, say some market players.
Not surprisingly, many private outfits have sprouted to meet the demand - but so has the number of complaints against doctors.
Nearly 200,000 cases of botched surgery have been reported over the past 10 years, the number suggesting that many clinics do not meet safety and quality standards.
In Shanghai, a handful of public institutions have been licensed to offer medical aesthetic services. "The government recognises the need to allow public hospitals to put research, medicine, facilities and talent into this sector so that patients can have peace of mind," said Dr Li.
Established foreign names, such as Singapore's Healthway Medical Group, have also been licensed to set up medical aesthetic clinics.
"There are very stringent requirements on a hospital's infrastructure, equipment and services," said Healthway president and executive director Lam Pin Woon.
"We were able to get approvals for our medical centre in one year - and that was considered a very short time for the industry - thanks to our good track record."
Healthway opened Neuglow, a 1,500 sq m medical aesthetic centre, in July last year.
Housed in a European-style bungalow at the historic Oriental Pearl park in the Lujiazui business district, the clinic, said to be the largest in Shanghai, serves high-end clients such as banker Cheng Yi, who pops in at lunchtime for quick aesthetic touch-ups.
"I've completed a double-eyelid procedure and laser hair removal for my legs. I'm looking to lift my nose bridge next," Yi, who is in her 40s, said before her 11.30am slimming treatment.
Double-eyelid surgery, which includes smoothing wrinkles and removing eyebags, may cost up to 100,000 yuan at top-end centres.
A local beauty parlour may charge 1,500 yuan, and a public hospital's centre 3,000 yuan, just for creating the double eyelids, although prices can vary widely.
Most patients like Sheng Rongfang, who is close to 50 years old, start with minor procedures.
"I'm afraid of pain, so I picked micro-surgery to shrink my rather large nostrils," she said.
Once they see the results and are happy with them, many become more daring, opting for breast lift and augmentation, liposuction and even cervix tightening, said Shiguang director Wu Jinliang.
"The women want to look appealing and beautiful. Many are in positions of influence and attend many important social events."
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