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More Japanese women pursuing young, beautiful faces

Takes a look at a modern-living issue in Japan: whether to get medical help for aging skin. For beauty pages. - 665 words.

By Coco Kubota, dpa

Tokyo/Seoul (dpa) - Looking young and having perfect skin is not a new obsession of women, but in Japan the quest is now being pursued with procedures that buck cultural conventions.

"Many Japanese had felt that hurting your precious body given you by your parents was bad," said Dr. Kotaro Yoshimura, assistant professor at the Department of Plastic Surgery at the University of Tokyo's Graduate School of Medicine.

"Now people feel that dermatological surgical procedures like chemical peels do not really hurt their body."

Imported from the West in the early 1990s, new methods to stop the aging process such as laser treatments and Botox injections have only recently become popular in Japan due to Japanese taboos and their expense, said the doctor.

"Despite the fact that Japanese doctors charge the highest in the world, the number of women going to dermatologists for surgery has been dramatically increasing in recent years," Yoshimura said.

Though there are no precise statistics available of the number of patients, Yoshimura estimates 500,000 people in Japan go to skin doctors for treatment annually, about twice as many as a few years ago.

Patients are mainly women, and those that have the funds to pay twice as much as a similar procedure would cost in the United States.

"My intention now is to spend some money on my face, because I already have enough Louis Vuitton and Prada bags," said Sayoko Suzuki, a 28-year-old single office worker who lives with her parents in Tokyo.

Suzuki recently spent 60,000 yen (570 dollars) for a facial chemical peel to remove age spots and treat her adult acne.

Her mother, Masako, 55, said she also tried Botox injections to diminish wrinkles around her eyes.

"I tried because I wanted to look young," Masako said, adding that she was not afraid of having the procedure carried out, "because it does not seem to be hurting my body".

Botox injections, which cost about 400 dollars in the U.S. according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, are a popular method of diminishing forehead lines and brow furrows, despite their paralytic and temporary effects, with one injection lasting for three to four months.

The high costs have led many Japanese to travel to neighbouring South Korea for facial treatments, not only because of their advanced technology in the field, but also to emulate South Korean women, known in Japan for their flawless skin.

"Korean dermatologists are very early adaptors for the new skills and equipment because of the high demand by Korean women, who are known for being conscious of their looks," said Dr. Lee Yoo Deuk, director for one of the most popular dermatological clinics in Seoul, the Lee Ji Ham Skin Clinic.

With Seoul only a two-hour plane journey from Tokyo, and bargain fares being offered for 140 dollars round trip, the Japanese are hopping over for their treatments.

"We have about 15 to 20 Japanese visitors per month at our clinic, and we have a staff member who speaks Japanese," said Lee.

Lee said anti-aging treatments for wrinkles and age spots were popular treatments in South Korea, with even South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun reportedly trying Botox for his forehead wrinkles.

Japan is now playing catch-up in the field of dermatology, with medical schools establishing cosmetic and dermatological surgery departments to meet the demands of a society willing to put aside long-standing cultural conventions.

"This will be a big market in Japan soon, because of Japan's increasingly aged society, and we should have many skilful dermatologists in five to 10 years," said Yoshimura, whose alma mater established a plastic and dermatological surgery department in 1998.

Yoshimura said while invasive plastic surgery remains unpopular in Japan, dermatological procedures are giving many Japanese women an option.

"The chemical peeling did not make my skin like a baby's, but I'm happy psychologically because it improved my skin. There were no such solutions at Japanese skin clinics before," said Suzuki.

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