Cosmetic surgery procedures common in South Korea are becoming increasingly popular in the North, sources inside the country have told DailyNK.

Demand for cosmetic surgery procedures has increased over the summer, as young women hurry to complete both surgery and recovery before the start of the new university term. Eyelid surgery and permanent makeup are particularly popular.

Previously, North Koreans were expected to abide by strict codes of conduct on appearance and avoid any trends seen as anti-socialist, but under the young leader Kim Jong-un, these appear to be easing – a move observers say is designed to show his rule as a modern and progressive.

“The demand on women to look beautiful is much stronger than it used to be,” a source in Yangkang Province told Daily NK. “Blepharoplasty [known as double-eyelid surgery, a common procedure in South Korea] and cosmetic tattooing on the eyes and lips are all getting more popular these days.”

The source said minor cosmetic surgical procedures are most common for women in their 20s. No figures are available detailing how many people have cosmetic surgery in North Korea, but the source said they believe nearly “one in five university students will have a cosmetic surgery procedure at some point.”

Most people get the procedures done in their own homes: “There are licensed physicians who make house calls to perform these procedures, but the majority are individuals who have picked up the skills themselves,” the source said. There is testimony suggesting that this results in no small number of botched surgeries and infections due to unhygienic conditions.

Many believe cosmetic surgery will help them to achieve better careers. As previously reported by DailyNK, beauty is a major factor in the selection of women chosen to work abroad, a chance that many in the isolated country strive for.

“They aren’t embarrassed to have cosmetic procedures done,” the source said. “If the change is blatant they may feel a bit sheepish, but they don’t hide it if they’ve had a simple procedure like eyelid surgery or lip pigmentation.”

“The notion that ‘beauty brings success’ rings true here, and women understand it better than anyone,” the source added. “The basic sentiment among people wanting to get surgery is that if they can get a better future from it then it makes sense to get it done.”

Mina Yoon, who defected from North Korea in 2010, has previously written for NK News about the popularity of simple surgical procedures among secondary school students in the North.

The average recovery time for a simple procedure is around two weeks. Since university students cannot forfeit time away from their studies for a prolonged period, the summer is a time of high demand. North Korea’s harsh winters, combined with persistent heating fuel shortages, may result in swelling and infection, adding to the demand during the summer months.

Technically, cosmetic surgery is illegal under North Korean law. However, the source told DailyNK that cosmetic surgery is openly offered at state-run hospitals and clinics. “I’ve never heard of anyone running into trouble because of eyelid surgery or permanent makeup procedures,” the source said.

The popularity of procedures appears to have contributed to a rise in prices. The current price for eyelid surgery in the North is reportedly 18,000-20,000 won ($138-$150) and micropigmentation procedures range from 24,000-25,000 won, the exception being lip pigmentation, which costs in the region of 18,000 won, a significant amount in the impoverished nation.

There has been an emphasis on youthfulness and appearance during the Kim Jong-un era, which is believed to have contributed to rising popularity of surgery. Kim’s wife, Ri Sol-ju, has been credited with helping to relax clothing trends, with bans on women wearing trousers and stringent regulations on skinny jeans having both eased considerably since Kim came to power in late 2011. Accessories previously listed as “anti-socialist” and perceived to be symbolic of “capitalist winds” have also made their way to the remotest areas of the country, while more women in the capital Pyongyang have been seen wearing higher heels.

“People figure that if the Marshal’s wife is going to dress so fabulously then they aren’t going to crack down strongly on clothing for anyone else,” the source said. “Party officials were the first to follow the Ri Sol-ju style, and now it has trickled down to most residents.”

“The idea of there being some kind of ‘ideal Chosun woman’ with her bobbed hair, no makeup and skirt down to the ankle is a complete thing of the past,” she said. “Spending money on self-beautification is a fast growing concept.”

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