September 26, 2007 / 6:53 AM / 11 years ago

Boom or bust? Asian women seek breast creams for lift

SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - Most women will attest that gravity has never been kind to bosoms, others will chide Mother Nature for her frugality. For thousands of Asian women unhappy with their bustlines, breast creams are the answer.

A woman walks past an advertisement for lingerie in Singapore September 21, 2007. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash

While surgery remains a popular option in several countries including Singapore and South Korea, more and more women are turning to off-the-shelf breast enhancement creams, which are seen as less invasive, less expensive and less painful, although experts say they also pose potential health risks.

For Lena Chan, a Singaporean with two children, the joy of motherhood was dampened when she looked in the mirror. “My breasts became so saggy, I was shy to wear a bikini,” she said. Chan started using a cream this April and says that it not only firmed her bosom but also boosted her confidence.

Every day, Singapore newspapers are full advertisements for bust enlargement creams. These creams are also hugely popular in Hong Kong and mainland China.

“Bust serums have become more popular recently, sales have increased,” said Miranda Lee, founder of DermaCare Bust Serum.

The company’s bust serums are so popular that in June it organized a beauty contest in which contestants using the cream could win titles such as “most improved body shape”.

Jennifer Shum, chief financial officer of Hong Kong-based breast cream distributor Sun East Group told Reuters that the firm sells more than one million boxes per year.

Touted as confidence boosters for slim Asian women, these breast creams are said to contain natural ingredients such as phytoestrogens — a plant-derived hormone-like substance which supposedly increases the swelling of breasts.

But several doctors interviewed by Reuters said they doubted such creams, which are applied on the skin, can be effective.

“All doctors will tell you that if you rub phytoestrogen anywhere, it would not enlarge it,” said Christopher Lam, a professor of chemical pathology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where breast creams are also heavily advertised.

Doctors also said that although the creams were advertised as “100 percent safe”, some might have potential for serious harm.

CANCER RISK

Peter Ang, a researcher at OncoCare Cancer Centre, said that experiments had shown that phytoestrogens might be dangerous for women predisposed to certain forms of breast cancer.

“There is some cause for concern, so you don’t want to add the risks,” added toxicologist Tan Hock Heng from Changi General Hospital, who advises against using the creams.

Sold through distributors and in healthcare stores, these products are regulated loosely under the cosmetics category by Singapore’s Health Sciences Authority.

Some bust cream manufacturers claim their products do more than enhance bust size. “It helps prevent memory loss and breast cancer,” says the Web site of one bust cream sold in Singapore.

The Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore told Reuters that it was “currently reviewing” some of these claims.

Although the products are loosely regulated under the cosmetics category, Singapore authorities do oblige breast-cream sellers to include a disclaimer below advertisements. But these are normally so tiny that they are often overlooked.

For Woffles Wu, Singapore’s best-known plastic surgeon, only implants will guarantee a cup-upgrade. “Surgery is a predictable, safe option. Of course there are side effects, as in any other operation, but all are manageable,” he told Reuters.

That’s the feeling too in beauty-mad South Korea, where surgery is the most popular option for breast enlargement.

“Creams have almost no effect and Koreans know that,” said a nurse at Image Plastic Surgery Clinic in Seoul.

Back in Singapore, 23-year-old airline stewardess Melissa Tang, 23, is not interested in creams nor surgery. “I swear by my push-up bra,” she said.

Additional reporting by Tan Ee Lyn in Hong Kong and Jessica Kim in Seoul

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