Travel trends: Cosmetic surgery in India

Travel trends: Cosmetic surgery in India

Mumbai is India’s cosmetic surgery capital: Here's a list of medical centers and their price tags
Some estimates say the value of the market in India is about US$ 25 million.

Recently, the British government decided to impose what the Brits have dubbed as the “boob tax”.

Breast enhancement in Britain will now set patients back by an additional US$1,500, jacking up the medical bill by an average 20 percent. In the Brit taxman’s lexicon, it is Value Added Tax, applicable on all cosmetic surgeries in that country.

Here in India, the medical tourism business may be a growing sector but it still remains somewhat unregulated.

India is hovering between fourth and fifth place in the top five global destinations for medical tourism, cosmetic surgery being a part of this; and with taxes going up in the United Kingdom, Asian destinations are set to benefit.

Most experts agree that the Indian cosmetic surgery sector is growing by between 20 and 30 percent, though the exact number of tourists who visit India every year just for cosmetic surgery is not clear.

Many bundle the procedure along with their normal travel itinerary.

Figures differ from 10,000-100,000 inbound a year, depending on the source of information. And some estimates say the value of the market in India is about US$ 25 million.

Cheap rates are the main reason driving these clients to India for cosmetic surgery.

“The average dentist in the United Kingdom is not qualified for advanced cosmetic procedures,” says Dr. Mukul Dabholkar, a Bandra-based dentist. "A full mouth rehabilitation with bridgework, crowns and laminates there would cost approximately Rs 20 lakh (US$39,000). In India, this will cost Rs 6.5 lakh (US$12,600) with dentists of better caliber.

Mumbai: Bollywood clients and the rising Indian middle class

It is not just inbound clients who propel the growth of the Indian cosmetic surgery sector, but domestic clients too.

Some 50-60 percent of the total cosmetic surgery tourists annually end up in Mumbai, India's entertainment capital.

Though Chennai, New Delhi, Bangalore, even Goa and Kolkata account for the rest, everybody in the business says Mumbai stakes claim to the top spot.

Mumbai-based cosmetic surgeon Dr. Manojkumar Manwani, who has been in this field for almost two decades, is fairly clear about Mumbai’s status as India’s cosmetic surgery capital.

Of all of his clients, 50 percent are from India.

Dr. Mohan Thomas, a cosmetic surgeon who qualified in the United States and is now practicing in India, calls Mumbai the cosmetic surgery mecca.

Dr. Thomas is on India’s national advisory tourism council under the Ministry of Tourism. He revealed that until two years ago, Chennai had captured a giant share of this market because of low fees and operating costs.

Mumbai has now pole-vaulted to the top slot for cosmetic surgery in India, while all other cities are a distant second, he said. 

From head to toe, Mumbai’s plastic surgeons can manipulate any outer part of the human anatomy in a long list of 175-odd invasive and non-invasive procedures.

There are also several hospitals in Mumbai that conduct these procedures, such as Bombay Hospital and Medical Research Center, Asian Heart Institute, Wockhardt Hospital and Breach Candy Hospital.

India’s upper crust, though, is no longer the sole beneficiary of the surgeon’s scalpel -- well, more usually a laser nowadays.

The great Indian middle class is a rising client with vanity high on the list of discretionary spending.

Cosmetic surgery in India is also shedding its taboo tab.

Though in existence in India for about four decades, this form of surgery was always referred to in hush-hush tones.

Film stars have always vehemently denied doing it, explaining away their chiseled bodies to gym sessions or classical dancing.

Then along came India’s first Miss Universe, model turned actor, Sushmita Sen, who in a newspaper interview acknowledged that she had had silicone implants to augment her breasts.

Many others followed Miss Sen, like dancer Rakhi Sawant and actresses Bipasha Basu, Shilpa Shetty, Sridevi and Koena Mitra -- or so this Times of India article insists.

Traditionally thought to be a woman’s market, men, too, have now emerged as new clients. And the clientele is younger too, as 20- and 30-somethings want to partake of the "plasty".

What’s on the menu?

Mumbai’s cosmetic surgeons say that for the young and the middle-aged, rhinoplasty (commonly referred to as the "nose job") is on top of the list, then chin augmentation, lip or breast augmentation, dental corrections and electrolysis hair removal.

For the middle-aged to the old, it is liposuction, wrinkle removal (popularly known as Botox treatment), thread lifts, face-lifts, hair weaving and stretch marks removal.

Foreign clients come for the “heavy-duty” stuff like abdominoplasty (tummy tucks), laser liposuction, face lifts, breasts augmentation and dental work, because these are extremely reasonably priced here.

For most foreign tourists, it becomes a “see India and get those wrinkles ironed out” kind of combined tour.

In Mumbai, a tummy tuck comes with a Rs 2 lakh plus price tag (in the United States, the price of this is about US$4,000 i.e. Rs 20 lakh), breast augmentation will set you back by Rs 2.20 lakh (between US$3,000-4,000, i.e. between Rs 15-20 lakh) while a nose job starts at Rs 1 lakh.

A Botox shot costs Rs 400 per unit (in the United States it will cost about US$70 per unit).

These are mean averages, street-level prices, so to speak.


After 23 years of hardcore, everyday journalism, Amrita has decided to eject out of the strait jacket of everyday reporting to take up writing, purely for the love of it.

Read more about Amrita Ghaswalla