Plastic surgery
Dubai sits at the top of the global list with the highest concentration of plastic surgeons in one city. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Be careful about going in for a nip and a tuck.

The sheer number of plastic surgery clinics in Dubai is driving prices down of procedures and raising concerns that such cost-cutting could harm Dubai’s image as a medical tourism hub.

The UAE Plastic Surgeons Association says it has no power to regulate the work of cosmetics clinics but is seeking additional authority to oversee the industry.

However, the situation is being complicated by the fact that a majority of clinics are owned by investors and not by doctors or medical practitioners. “Nearly 10 per cent (of cosmetic clinics) are owned by surgeons and specialists,” and this is one of the reasons behind the intense competition and dropping treatment rates,” said Luiz Toldeo, a consultant plastic surgeon and science director at Emirates Plastic Surgeon Association (EPSA).

“The bosses are not the surgeons, and the surgeons have no say in what is being promoted,” said Toldeo in reference to the promotions being offered.

When “prices are low, the quality of treatment will deteriorate … because you can’t travel to get knowledge and can’t buy the right material because they are expensive,” said Toldeo. “So you have to use cheaper things, re-sterilised raw materials because you can’t buy disposable material because they are expensive. Everything tends to be downgraded,

“When the quality of the treatment goes down, Dubai’s medical tourism goes down.”

Competition should be based on quality, and people “should come to Dubai for medical tourism because we are better... not because we are cheaper,” said Toldeo. ”It is going to be like Mayo Clinic. [They] come to Mayo because it is good, not because it is cheap.”

Dubai sits at the top of the global list with the highest concentration of plastic surgeons in one city. Today, there are 236 licensed plastic surgeons and 386 licensed dermatologists in Dubai. There are 277 facilities offering plastic surgery and dermatology services, according to Dubai Health Authority (DHA).

The number of cosmetic surgeons is also the highest concentration in any part of the world, Toldeo said. In terms of ratio of plastic surgeons to the population, Dubai has 47 practitioners for every million, while the ratio is 24 surgeons for every million in the US and 31 in Brazil, he said.

In 2016 alone, medical tourism generated more than $381 million (Dh1.4 billion) for the city, according to Dubai’s Medical Tourism Council.

Sabet Salahia, a plastic, cosmetic and aesthetic surgeon, said when he arrived to Dubai in 1999, there were just 10 plastic surgeons in the city. The numbers began rising after Dubai’s initiative to become a hub for foreign investments, he said.

Salaha said investments in cosmetic clinics are good for the business. It is complementary, and a luxury speciality. Second, it is not related to (health) insurance, and, third, the patient pays cash,” he said.

Insurance, usually, doesn’t cover cosmetic procedures. The procedure that has the highest demand is liposuction.

Apart from Dubai residents, many come to Dubai for such procedures. Plastic surgery is one of the five leading popular procedures for health tourism. Other common surgeries and cosmetic procedures include botox, dermal fillers and liposuction, according to DHA.

But despite the popularity, there has been some oversight, Toldeo claims.

“Society should do that, [but it] has no power. Society has to go either to DHA or MOH (Ministry of Health), which have the power to do this,” he told “Gulf News”.

The Association has asked health official authorities to have a say “whenever there is a claim against a surgeon. This person should be judged by a plastic surgeon, which is not happening today,” he said.

Dubai health authorities said licensing of plastic surgeons comes after thorough examination. “Physicians are evaluated following strict licensing regulations as well in terms of ethical, moral and social responsibility to ensure every individual who accesses the system will benefit from safe and high-quality healthcare,” Layla Al Marzouqi, Director of the Medical Tourism Council said.

A sample of prices and comparison

A liposuction procedure in a clinic in Dubai would start from Dh15,000. In Thailand, it would start from Dh7,000. In India, it would cost nearly Dh4,500. In Los Angeles, it would range from Dh7,500 to Dh44,000 depending on the geographic region and complexity of procedure.

Prices of Botox injections’ don’t vary widely in different areas. It ranges between Dh1,500-Dh4,500, depending on the units a person requires.

Social media not helping

Cosmetic plastic surgeons complained that social media is sending the wrong message to ordinary people.

“Social media has blurred everything. Let us assume we have five top names of plastic surgeons in Dubai, and you put something on Facebook and Instagram and on the same day there are 200 people that you never heard of claiming “miracles” on Instagram,” said Luiz Toldeo.

“So [top surgeon] postings get lost, his idea of quality or doing the right thing gets lost in the middle of this and you don’t know who took the lead. Today, internet is king, and you can’t say it is wrong.

“I have seen clinics in Dubai posting (images of people) before and after treatment. They are different patients …. They [the clinics] don’t get punished and they don’t get sued. And maybe they do, and we don’t know because they are too many.”

EPSA has suggested to the concerned health departments to put in place a mechanism to control ads making false claims attracting people who may not know what is safe and what is not, said Sabet Salahia.

Cosmetologist Iowna Pruska, who owns a clinic on Jumeirah road, still remembers how she worked at a beauty salon in Dubai when she joined her sister in Dubai in the late 1970s after finishing her three-year cosmetology studies in Poland to start a career. By 1991, the two sisters opened their cosmetics business.

Pruska strongly believes the best advertisement for her business is word of mouth.. “The best advertisement is a happy customer every hour …. It doesn’t matter what they have received, but it is that they have received much more than they were expecting,” she said.