Y Magazine

Y INVESTIGATION: The changing face of cosmetic surgery in Oman

While some people consider cosmetic surgery to improve their appearance, others are obliged to undergo plastic surgery out of necessity. Hasan al Lawati and Alvin Thomas talk to patients and experts in the field and investigate why people go under the knife.



Aspiring engineer Ansar Mohammed was 21 when he first began seeing his hair fall out.

The youngster was then in his freshman year of college, in the state of Kerala, India; and found the whole experience to be “embarrassing”.

It had affected his social life but it was the stigma attached to a youngster with bald spots that perturbed Ansar.

After all, baldness has long been associated with ageing.

“It’s not often do you see a young man with baldness, do you?” asks Ansar.

In desperation, he started opting for Ayurveda medicines (Indian medicines) and also other remedies to cover up his bald spots.

However, it was to no avail. Ansar then came across the Minoxidil Tropical – a medicine designed to “cure” hair loss in men.

However, he asserts that – despite temporarily curing his baldness –his use of it resulted in side-effects, which eventually led him to him giving it up.

Now, 10 years later, Ansar is completely bald, and has given up hope of “growing hair” with medicines.

But all is not lost for Ansar, as he has recently discovered the “magic” of cosmetic surgery at a clinic in Oman.

So, what exactly is cosmetic surgery?

According to the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, cosmetic surgery is defined as the procedures, techniques, and principles that are entirely focused on enhancing a patient’s appearance.

Improving aesthetic appeal, symmetry, and proportion are the key goals of this form of surgery.

It can be performed on all areas of the head, neck, and body but, because the treated areas function properly, cosmetic surgery is elective.

It is practised by doctors from a variety of medical fields, including plastic surgeons.

A session with the doctor from the cosmetic clinic has already promised to rejuvenate Ansar with a youthful look.

“Twenty-four thousand hair cells, is what I will be replacing, sometime this year. Now, it’s just a matter of paying the amount and setting the date,” he says.

The cost of all this? RO1,200.

But, getting a date for the surgery isn’t as easy as it sounds, as more patients are coming forward and opting for cosmetic surgery in Oman. And in a turn of events, the number of men opting to go “under the knife” is on the rise.

So, it would be fair to say that the cosmetics business is getting a “complete facelift” in Oman as more men are joining the female-dominated clientele. At least, that is what Dr Rami Anderi, a consultant plastic surgeon at La Clinica, seems to think.

“We are seeing a remarkable increase in the number of males who undergo cosmetic surgeries. Men make around 30 per cent of our patients,” the doctor says.

He adds that men are still undergoing simpler procedures like nose jobs (an operation involving rhinoplasty or cosmetic surgery on a person’s nose) and liposuction (a technique in cosmetic surgery for removing excess fat from under the skin by suction), than most women, who opt for major surgeries such as breast implants, tummy tucks and facial contouring.

Dr Nehal Ali Fadlalla, a cosmetological and aesthetic procedures specialist, at Burjeel Hospital, agrees: “It is true that more men are opting for cosmetic procedures and surgeries.

“I am not a surgeon but I can tell you that there is a sharp increase in the number of men who come into the hospital for getting some small cosmetological procedures. Men usually opt for Botox® and fillers to eradicate wrinkles or to lift their cheeks and their under-eyes.

“Another trend is that both the husband and wife come together to get these procedures done. But, there was a time when men were ashamed to get cosmetic treatments done.

“Now, the trend has changed. People want to look good, and the media has definitely helped remove any stigma surrounding men and cosmetics.

“Of course, another reason why men opt out of procedures and surgeries is the cost factor. But, as the demand rises, and as we advance with technology, the time taken for procedures has come down. This has dropped the rates, substantially, compared to the early 2000s,” she adds.

Dr Anderi concurs, saying: “As technology is getting more advanced and prices for getting cosmetic surgeries are dwindling, more people have been coming to us to change their looks.”

The statistics revealed by the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI), confirms Dr Anderi’s statement, too. As per the report, surgeons across the Sultanate performed 102,965 surgeries –of which 56,601 were minor and 46,364 were major surgeries – in hospitals and health centres, in 2015.

In comparison, the total number of surgeries in 2014 was only 94,830.

According to the Annual Health Report 2015 issued by the Ministry of Health, “other” operations, including tissue disruption, plastic surgery (cosmetic) and “other surgical procedures not otherwise specified” were the ones that involved the most surgeries, with 23,844 operations.

Dr Anderi then explains that the cosmetic surgery industry in Oman is thriving, and that citizens from neighbouring countries travel to the Sultanate for availing themselves of the services here.

“Even when it comes to the cost, the Sultanate is the cheapest place in the GCC region to have cosmetic surgery,” he adds.

Official statistics of visiting patients are unknown, but it is known – as per the data revealed by the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery Hospital, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – that 11 per cent of the patients that undergo cosmetic surgery in the country are Omanis.

But how can a simple surgery change a person’s life?

“People feel more confident socially when they change a body part that they feel unsecured about. We have seen change in people’s social lives and marital relations,” he explains.

For some, cosmetic surgery is more than just hiding their insecurities, though.

Arjun Arora, a 24-year-old cinematographer and a part-time short-film actor says that cosmetic surgery saved his career.

In 2007, Arjun was diagnosed with a condition known as gynecomastia – a swelling of the breast tissue in boys or men – caused by an imbalance of the hormones oestrogen and testosterone.

This, he says, completely destroyed his confidence. As per statistics revealed by the webmd.com – an online health website – 50 to 60 per cent of boys undergoing puberty develop this condition.

“I felt embarrassed to even wear a body-hugging T-shirt when going out in public,” Arjun says.

“My friends used to tease and bully me. Because of this, I hated school and college, too. There’s no denying I was never cast in the short films that we shot, and I didn’t have the confidence to work as part of a team.”

But, in 2015, Arjun decided to undergo a gynecomastia surgery, which would remove excess fat and glandular tissue to restore a flatter, firmer and more masculine contour to the chest.

The surgery was successful, and Arjun says that it was the best decision that he has ever made.

“Today, I am not only confident at work. Even my personal life has taken a turn for the better. I can wear whatever pleases me, and whenever I want. This is what cosmetic surgery has done for me.

“Gynecomastia is a known condition in my family, and many of my cousins have it, too. But, they are all afraid to undergo cosmetic surgery, as they think it is either too painful or for men who cannot deal with their bodies.

“The latter may be true, but we must realise that being confident in one’s own skin is key. And if you cannot do that, I would advise you to tone your body – whether it is with regular exercise or surgery –until you achieve that.”

Dr Anderi is keen to explain why men look for cosmetic surgeries and how the industry not restricted to women.

“We deal with patients from 20 to 70 years old. Girls in their 20s usually ask for nose jobs and liposuction; middle-aged women, especially after giving birth, go for breast lifting and tummy tuck operations.

“Nevertheless, private clinics in Oman refuse performing such surgeries on children below 18,” the Brazilian-Lebanese doctor says, adding that it is better for people in Oman to have their surgeries done locally to maintain the follow-up sessions and avoid any complications.

However, not everyone looking to cosmetically enhance themselves need go under the knife, says Dr Nehal Ali.

“Both cosmetic surgeries and cosmetological procedures have their pros and cons. However, it is best to opt for surgeries only as a last resort or if you want to go with something a simple procedure cannot offer you.”

Currently, Dr Nehal offers services such as fillers, Botox®, laser hair removal and even acne treatment.

She explains: “If someone wants to have a simple nose correction, you can try out fillers. A filler can cost up to RO150 per session, and you may have to undergo up to three sittings. But if it helps, then you don’t have to go for surgery.

“Of course, a specialist can always advise you whether you need a simple procedure or a surgery after a one-time consultation. The difference between the two can be quite immense, especially in terms of the cost.”

Simple non-surgical procedures can cost anywhere between RO150 to RO250, per session. However, surgeries can cost anywhere between RO1000 to RO5000, depending on the surgeon or the procedure.

Arjun says a gynecomastia surgery here would cost roughly RO2500 to RO3000. So, he underwent the procedure in India, where he paid INR150,000 (RO905). But, he regrets the decision as he has to fly back to India for follow-up sessions.

Echoing him, Dr Muadh Abdul Hameed, resident plastic surgeon at Khoula Hospital, says that many patients who have to travel abroad to get plastic surgery may come back with complications and they are forced to revisit public hospitals.

Public hospitals in Oman provide free reconstructive surgeries (plastic surgeries) to its citizens, but do charge for cosmetic surgeries, thereby adding to the overall cost.

Plastic and cosmetic surgeries must not be confused with each other. Plastic surgery is defined as a surgical procedure dedicated to reconstruction of facial and body defects due to birth disorders, trauma, burns, and disease.

It is intended to correct dysfunctional areas of the body and is reconstructive in nature.

Reconstructive surgery is performed to treat structures of the body affected aesthetically or functionally by congenital defects, developmental abnormalities, trauma, infection, tumours or disease.

Speaking about plastic surgeries, Dr Anderi encourages people seeking reconstructive surgeries to undergo them in public hospitals where they will be operated by an integrated team.

“Around 99 per cent of the reconstructive surgeries in Oman are done in government hospitals while the majority of the cosmetic ones are only provided by private clinics and health care centres,” Dr Muadh says.

Every year, at least 200 babies in Oman are born with defects in their upper lips, according to local sources. Medically known as cleft lip and palate, the condition is an opening in the upper lip that may extend into the nose, according to Dr Muadh.

“It is the commonest birth defect and while it is not seen as a stigma anymore, parents suffer a lot of trauma when they see their newborn with this condition,” he says.

Abdul Hameed also says that this disorder can cause feeding problems, speech problems, and ear infections.

“Around 30 per cent of the babies can be associated with other disorders,” he explains.

That is why medical staff in Oman have launched an awareness campaign to help new parents to cope with the disease.

There are three hospitals in Oman that treat such defects, Al Khoula hospital in Muscat, one in Sohar and other in Salalah, according to  Dr Muadh.

“We perform around five surgeries per week to patients suffering from facial defects,” he says while talking to Y magazine on the sidelines of The Omani Society of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery event.

The annual event was held at Muscat Grand Mall on Monday, July 31 to mark the Cleft and Craniofacial awareness month


The story of Mishal Hadid Al Musharfi


Mishal Hadid Al Musharfi and his wife were quite surprised when their son, Ihab was first born.

“His upper lips were torn up to his nose. At first we thought of taking Ihab abroad to treat him but then doctors at Khoula Hospital assured him that the problem is minor and can be easily treated,” he says.

Ihab is one year and three months old now and looks like any other baby.

The 30-year-old father admitted that he was initially afraid of the surgery.

“He was too small and we were worried. But now our baby boy can be fed normally,” Mishal says.


Types of cosmetic surgery


Breast Enhancement: Augmentation, Lift, Reduction

Facial Contouring: Rhinoplasty, Chin, or Cheek Enhancement

Facial Rejuvenation: Facelift, Eyelid Lift, Neck Lift, Brow Lift

Body Contouring: Tummy Tuck, Liposuction, Gynecomastia Treatment

Skin Rejuvenation: Laser Resurfacing, Botox®, FillerTreatments