Under the Needle

An expat recalls his experience with Botox injections in HCMC

James, 33, splits his time between New York, London and Saigon. Having had Botox a couple of times in New York and been thrilled with the results – “I couldn’t stop looking in the mirror” – he found the expenditure a drain on the wallet. And so while he was over here for business, the
comparatively tiny price tag beckoned him to the doctor’s surgery.

“It is always about recommendations. I would never go anywhere a friend hadn’t recommended. There is always a risk involved with medicine, wherever you are in the world, so you have to trust your instincts,” he says. It’s important you know exactly what you want and feel comfortable questioning your doctor and the results. “Just because he does Cameron Diaz, it doesn’t mean your eyebrows are straight.”

With this is mind, he took a friend’s advice and visited a clinic on Dong Khoi. First impressions were good – it was clean and professional. “They asked all the right questions.” And he had the reassuringly familiar mountain of paperwork to fill out prior to the consultation. The Vietnamese
doctor who spoke perfect English, talked through the procedure and discussed recommended units of Botox. Twenty minutes later, true to his friend’s experience, he left the clinic with his forehead wrinkle-free, feeling refreshed and looking five years younger.


So good was James’ experience that eight months later he returned for round two. The same doctor, the same professionalism, however not such good results. Instead of a natural-looking healthy glow, he left with a “frozen plasticy-shine.” His forehead had an unnatural sheen and he struggled to show expression. Most worryingly, when he raised his eyebrows, only one moved. Horrified, he returned to the clinic.

Although the doctor was understanding, the clinic was reluctant to accept any wrongdoing. It was described as “normal”, something that “sometimes happens.” The solution? More Botox. So James had a corrective dose of Botox (free of charge), to make both eyebrows equally immobile. And “it took about a month for things to begin to return to normal,” explains James.

The Price of Youthfulness
To those who are yet to dip their toes into the world of cosmetic surgery, this might be enough to put you off. However, James is more philosophical about his experience. “The thing is, this can happen anywhere. In the US it happens all the time and it would have been dealt with in exactly the same way. It is not like it has caused life-long damage.”

James is all too aware, that with all surgery, cosmetic or otherwise, there is a chance it may go wrong. And in Vietnam, where the industry is comparatively young and comparatively unregulated, he felt it would be almost impossible to bring them to justice, let alone get any compensation or have them cease operation to prevent further damage to other people. “You’re definitely more vulnerable as a foreigner – going up against a Vietnamese doctor, the whole institution, it would be overwhelming. [Also because] of what is seen as acceptable. For example, in Saigon, like in LA, it’s totally normal to look like you have had work – it doesn’t matter if you have big scars behind your ears, or overly taut skin stretched across your face. The priority is wrinkle-free, whatever the cost. And everyone’s at it, from nose jobs, to double eyelid surgery, and from a very young age.”


Adding: “If I had gone in and said I want my eyes done, at my age, they would have said, ‘Sure, no problem.’ In the West, that would have alarm bells ringing.” In the West, he wouldn’t be allowed to have his eyes done at 33-years-old because there’s nothing wrong with them, nothing to ‘do’. But here, he thinks they would have done it anyway and he would have looked ridiculous.

However, the fact remains, having work done here is a fraction of the price. The Botox that James had for USD150 would have cost him USD1000 in New York. And in his experience, if you do a bit of research and follow your instincts, you’re no worse off here than anywhere else in the world. And if the proof is in a repeat customer, would James go back for more? Without hesitating, “Yeah, probably!”



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