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.”

Time­piece of choice: Franck Muller leather watch

Right: Molton Brown Re-charge Black Pep­per An­tiPer­spi­rant Stick; Her­més Con­cen­treé d’Or­ange Verte Be­low: Dr. Teo’s workspace scents and sen­si­bil­i­ties

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