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China is seeing a rise in social, review-based cosmetic surgery apps. Unlike the previous wave of simulator options, these apps provide a colourful feedback platform complete with live consultation, pricing and photographs. The new products aim to remove the final hurdle between consumers and hospitals in China: the expansive knowledge gap.

In contrast with their regional neighbour South Korea, cosmetic surgery in China is still widely perceived as a fringe indulgence. Sensationalist reports of collapsed facial surgeries often circle on Sina Weibo, and cosmetic app developers themselves have admitted the industry is hazardous. However they believe the only thing standing between consumers and safe surgery is a lack of reliable information.

Notable new player, app Zhen Youmei (“Very Beautiful”), made its market entry in January this year. Founder Jiang Zhi is a serial entrepreneur who started out in the advertising industry. In 2008 he co-founded China’s biggest demand-side platform advertising network, Pin You Hudong. Three years later, he established Daye Shengde, a messaging marketing operator. In late 2013, Jiang Zhi made the move to health and cosmetics, and by early 2014, both iOS and Android versions of Zhen Youmei were on the market.

“The potential and market for plastic surgery is huge, but currently the Chinese market has too many dangers to the consumer, including facial disfigurement and financial swindling. This has lead to a lot of criticism of the industry” says Jiang Zhi.

A close look at Zhen Youmei gives good insights into Zhi’s solution. First and foremost, it’s an information app. It doesn’t take user photos and spew out retouched images like its market predecessors. Zhen Youmei is targeted more at removing the emotional and social ‘first-contact’ barriers between consumers and hospitals; delivering procedure details, consultations and prices.

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The app features a sugary-pink UI with 14 options including eye widening, nose fixes, lip and teeth modifications as well as liposuction. Each goes into complex detail covering applicable patients, results, costs, advantages and possible risks.

What’s remarkable about this cosmetic sidekick – or concerning, depending where you stand – is the social element. Not only do users have an option to connect with hospitals and submit anonymous questions, they also can take advantage of a ‘diary’ function, where they describe their experience and share photos. It parallels a format that has already been successfully applied in fitness apps, with particular similarities between ‘before and after’ photograph functions.

A friendly interface and frank procedure details aside, the social element is Zhi’s greatest asset in the drive to normalise plastic surgery in China. He said that the app will always exclude hospital and doctor information from the diary function, but admitted that it would be impossible to entirely moderate sham advertisements.

photoMarket rival Zheng Na’r also sells itself on safety and ease of use. That app was released in June this year, along with a notably more benign fashion app that shares the same bubblegum-pink UI. Like Zhen Youmei, developers say that patient safety is the app’s primary concern. According to their own description on the iTunes store, they only work with hospitals that have complete legal certification, with the aim of ending false solicitation by unregistered clinics.

Their description also claims they are connected to over 2,000 hospitals country wide, and to more than 6,000 physicians. Zheng Nar boasts a slightly broader option set, including hymen reconstruction at US$512 (around RMB3000), which received a low satisfaction rating of just 33%, while dental crowns received a glowing 100% appraisal.

Like Zhen Youmei, Zheng Nar is well aware of their core selling point: “You only have to lift a finger to get started.”

 

Editing by Mike Cormack (@bucketoftongues)