Dr. Z Teo and the landscape of cosmetic surgery
Dr. Z Teo faces the facts on today’s landscape of cosmetic surgery
T HERE’S ALWAYS AN AIR of hesitation that accompanies talking to a cosmetic surgeon. For one, there’s this ridiculous fear and assumption that as you engage in conversation, your wrinkles, sunspots, down to your (admittedly oversized) pores are mentally being dissected and taken note of by your partner in discourse. Dr. Z Teo shows no signs of examining mid-conversation. In fact, the surgeon remains entirely focused on one thing: telling his story. One of the brilliant minds that lead the field of cosmetic surgery in Singapore and Manila, Teo remains a person to look up to and look for, ironically, when it comes to one’s looks.
What drove you to choose cosmetic surgery?
After doing my basic medical degree, I flew back to Singapore and practiced internal medicine there for two years. I found out that it wasn’t my cup of tea. Growing up, I was always inclined towards the arts but Singapore was very academics-based.
It’s all about studies and grades so you don’t really have the opportunity to explore. It was only when I practiced internal medicine that I realized seeing patients every day, prescribing medication day in day out, didn’t really fulfill me as a doctor. But I think everyone is wired differently. That’s when I met Aivee; she was a dermatologist and we went to a conference in Hong Kong on dermatology and cosmetic surgery. I sat there so fascinated by how arts can be combined with science. It’s really about how you contour a face, how you create something different, and that’s when I decided I wanted to sub-specialize in cosmetic surgery.
You also studied in Glasgow.
I spent seven years in university in Glasgow. The thing [about Glasgow] is, it has a very interesting medical program. This one centers on problems so you don’t attend that many lectures. They have acting classes with real actors from Glasgow’s drama academy, all pretending to be patients.
What was that like?
Well, they sit there in front of you, you’re the doctor, and everything you are doing is shown on CCTV to the next classroom where all your classmates are watching. The actors are crazy talented, they cry, they get angry, and say “Why do you give this to me, doctor?” You’re there and suddenly you’re put in a position where you have to try and talk to them. That’s where and how you learn.
Is this where you learned practice is incredibly personal?
Yes, it’s a lot of communication. Medicine is a very personal field; it’s not something that’s just you and a textbook. It’s really a lot about you and how you talk to the patient. You really get to empathize with the patient and feel what they’re feeling.
We remember reading that you advocate minimally invasive surgeries. Can you tell us more about that and your current practice now?
Cosmetic surgery has gone a long way. We used to do a lot of cutting and a lot more incisions. The past 10 years, technology has grown so fast that people don’t need to go through so much downtime anymore. They’re busy; they don’t want to stay home for two weeks recuperating. We do work like liquid facelifts, which are simple, small fillers around the face, placed in different points for a nice lift.
What is it in today’s landscape of cosmetic surgery that excites you the most?
Stem cells. It’s pretty big. We found that when we took stem cells from a body and put it into the face, it makes the patient look younger. It’s fascinating for me because it’s no longer just superficial treatments. Because stem cells can cross into so many fields, it has allowed us to go from purely dermatological to orthopedics, to even pediatrics. Now it’s more about your health, your wellness. You will find that people who look good are those who are very healthy inside. There’s only so much you can do on the outside, which is why I believe in a holistic approach—tackle the person as a whole, you’ll look younger and you can get well while you're at it.
“There’s only so much you can do on the outside, which is why I believe in a holistic approach.”
Right: Molton Brown Re-charge Black Pepper AntiPerspirant Stick; Hermés Concentreé d’Orange Verte Below: Dr. Teo’s workspace scents and sensibilities