Beauty Therapy: Cosmetic Surgery in Syria and Lebanon

Conflicts in the Middle East lead to increased demand for cosmetic surgery, and for some the results are tragic.

Lebanese may be famous for their beauty, but not all of them were born with it. More than 1.5 million cosmetic procedures are performed each year in the tiny country of 6 million, mostly on women. As many as one in three women in Beirut have had cosmetic surgery.
The patients are not all Lebanese. Before the Syrian war, up to 40 percent of cosmetic patients in Lebanon were medical tourists. Now, the war has dried up Lebanese tourism, and Dubai has sensed opportunity. It invested heavily in beauty clinics and has emerged as the region’s new go-to area for cosmetic treatments.
But powerful forces keep pushing Lebanese women to go under the knife. Part is being in peer groups where cosmetic surgery is common. But many psychologists also connect the desire to enhance appearance with Lebanon’s history of civil war, suggesting that many women turn to cosmetic surgery to nurture self-esteem after experiencing trauma. With casualties and displacement having reduced the availability of eligible bachelors, others see perfecting their appearance as the best way to secure a marriage proposal.
Syria is another place where a longstanding tradition of cosmetic surgery tourism is on the ropes. Yet, domestic demand for cosmetic surgery is booming for many of the same reasons as it is in Lebanon. To attract new customers, plastic surgeons have lowered prices and are adopting cheaper—and more dangerous—techniques. The results often have been tragic. In early 2017, a 14-year-old girl in Damascus died after undergoing a freckle-removing procedure in an unlicensed clinic. It is another threat brought on by war. 

This piece is a part of Mezze, a monthly short article series spotlighting societal trends across the region. It originally appeared in the Middle East Program's monthly newsletter, Middle East Notes and Comment. For more information and to receive our mailings, please contact the Middle East Program.