Sun, Sea, Sand and Silicone: Mapping Cosmetic Surgery Tourism

This interdisciplinary project looks at Britons and Australians - and some Chinese and Japanese - who participate in cosmetic surgery tourism, and at the countries and people that provide this service. It uses in-depth interviews, video and photo diaries and key on-site observations in order to explore the peculiarly contemporary phenomenon of cosmetic surgery tourism and its connections to global flows of people and capital. Cosmetic surgery tourism has a crucial wider context: it is part of a general medical tourism trend. Women and men travelling abroad for cosmetic surgery are likely to become the pioneers of medical tourism and cosmetic surgery is leading this growth industry because it is a largely privatized healthcare practice.

Cosmetic surgery tourism is a new and developing industry that incorporates novel forms of labour and organizational structure that straddle national boundaries. For instance, it is possible for a cosmetic surgery travel agent to collect a patient from their doorstep in the UK or Australia, fly them to Spain or Thailand, transport them from the airport to a hotel near the hospital, allocate a nurse/ guide/ interpreter to be constantly at the patient's side throughout their surgery, recovery and post-surgery tourist 'experiences', before returning them once more to their doorstep. Although the 'credit crunch' has undoubtedly slowed the growth of the cosmetic surgery industry globally, it has simultaneously swelled the numbers prepared to travel for 'cut-price' surgeries made possible by favourable currency exchange rates and lower labour costs outside the richest countries in the world. Little research has yet been conducted on mapping out this new industry and the experiences of those that enter into it. This research aims to broaden our understanding of the modes of operation of the organizations involved, the surgical tourist experience, and the potential implications for a globalized system of healthcare organized around consumption.

The research examines two sites of origin in detail - the UK and Australia - (as well as some tourists from China and Japan) and a number of popular cosmetic surgery tourism destinations including Thailand, Korea, Malaysia, Spain, Poland and Tunisia. The research team is investigating cosmetic surgery tourists, cosmetic surgery tourist agents, care workers, interpreters and tour guides, as well as clinic staff and surgeons. It explores the demand for surgery abroad through individual consumer motivations and charts their experiences and the structure, organisation and experiences of workers in the cosmetic surgery tourism industry. This study represents the first multi-site, empirical and systematic analysis of cosmetic surgery tourism and is being carried out by an internationally renowned research team.

Data from the study will be used to predict some of the key issues facing surgical tourists and healthcare providers in the future, in what will undoubtedly become a more mobile and internationalised market.

Project report

View the final project report

Publications and outputs

Ruth Holliday, Meredith Jones and David Bell (2019) Beautyscapes: Mapping Cosmetic Surgery Tourism, Manchester University Press (Winner of the Foundation for the Sociology of Health and Illness Book Prize 2020)

Ruth Holliday, Olive Cheung, Ji Hyun Cho and David Bell Trading Faces: The ‘Korean Look’ and medical nationalism in South Korean cosmetic surgery tourismAsia Pacific Viewpoint (2017) 58 (2): 190-202.

Ruth Holliday, David Bell, Olive Cheung, Meredith Jones and Elspeth Probyn Brief Encounters: Assembling Cosmetic Surgery TourismSocial Science and Medicine (2015) 124: 298-304

David Bell, Ruth Holliday, Meghann Ormond and Tomos Mainil Transnational health care, cross-border perspectivesSocial Science & Medicine (2015) 124: 284-289

David Bell and Ruth Holliday ‘Cosmetic Surgery Tourism’ in Lunt, Hanefeld and Horsefall (eds) Elgar Handbook of Medical Tourism and Patient Mobility, (2015) 421-430.

Meredith JonesRuth HollidayDavid BellOlive CheungEmily HunterElspeth ProbynJackie Sanchez Taylor, Facebook and Facelifts, In Garth Lean, Russell Staiff and Emma Waterton (Eds) Travel and TransformationAldershot: Ashgate, (2014).

Ruth HollidayKate HardyDavid BellMeredith JonesElspeth Probyn and Jacqueline Sanchez Taylor ‘Sun Sea Sand and Silicone: Mapping Cosmetic Surgery Tourism‘ – Preliminary findings

Ruth HollidayDavid BellMeredith JonesKate HardyEmily HunterElspeth Probyn and Jacqueline Sanchez Taylor ‘Beautiful Face, Beautiful Place:  Relational Geographies and Gender in Cosmetic Surgery Tourism Websites‘, Gender, Place and Culture (2013) 22 (1) 90-106.

Ruth HollidayKate HardyDavid BellMeredith JonesElspeth Probyn and Jacqueline Sanchez Taylor ‘Beauty and the Beach’ in David Botterill, Guido Pennings and Tomas Mainil (eds) (2013) Medical Tourism and Transnational Health Care, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.

David BellRuth HollidayMeredith JonesElspeth Probyn and Jacqueline Sanchez Taylor ‘Bikinis and Bandages: An Itinerary for Cosmetic Surgery Tourism‘, Tourist Studies 11 (2), (2011), 137-153.


See our project reviewed by Sarah Boseley in The Guardian on Friday 21 June 2013

Hear our project discussed on BBC Radio 5 live by Victoria Derbyshire on 27 June 2013

Hear our project discussed on ABC National Radio’s Life Matters 26 February 2013

Conference Papers

Ruth HollidayDavid BellOlive Cheung and Ji Hyun Cho, ‘Medical Nationalism and South Korean Cosmetic Surgery Tourism’ International Medical Travel Symposium, Asia Research Institute (ARI), National University of Singapore, Aug, 2015.

Ruth HollidayMeredith JonesOlive CheungDavid Bell ‘Clinical Trails: Surgeons’ Accounts of Cosmetic Surgery ‘Tourism’’, British Sociological Association Conference, Leeds, April 2014.

Ruth HollidayOlive CheungDavid BellMeredith JonesEmily HunterElspeth Probyn and Jacqueline Sanchez Taylor, ‘Dis-Orienting Cosmetic Surgery Tourism’, Cultural Typhoon, Tokyo, July 2013.

Ruth HollidayDavid BellMeredith JonesElspeth ProbynOlive Cheung and Emily Hunter ‘Beautyscapes: Exploring Internet use amongst cosmetic surgery tourists and agents’, BSA Medsoc, York: September 2013.

Ruth HollidayDavid BellMeredith JonesElspeth ProbynJackie Sanchez TaylorOlive CheungEmily Hunter and Ji Hyun Cho, ‘Mapping Cosmetic Surgery Tourism’, British Sociological Association, London, April 2013.

Ruth HollidayOlive CheungDavid BellMeredith JonesEmily HunterElspeth Probyn and Jacqueline Sanchez Taylor ‘Locating Cosmetic Surgery Tourism’ MedSoc, British Sociological Association, University of Leicester, September 2012.

Ruth Holliday and David Bell, Departmental Seminar ‘Beauty and the Beach’, Department of Gender and Cultural Studies, University of Sydney, August 2012.

Ruth HollidayDavid Bell, Meredith JonesEmily HunterElspeth Probyn and Jacqueline Sanchez Taylor  ‘Beautiful Face, Beautiful Place’, Association of American Geographers, New York, February 2012.

Ruth Holliday, David BellMeredith JonesElspeth Probyn and Jacqueline Sanchez Taylor, ‘Beauty and the Beach’, International Medical Geography Symposium, Durham, July 2011.