Seeing the Dermatologist in Korea

April 18, 2011

At face value, Korean pharmacies generally offer the same products you see in western nations: multivitamins, Sensodyne toothpaste, first aid supplies… But where we part ways is due to the prevalence of sesame seeds and ginseng, both of which play a huge role in Korean “well-being” (code for health). Ginseng concentrate is sold as medicine. The tea is used to treat colds and fevers. The pure roots are given as gifts (rather expensive).

Take my first visit to a dermatologist’s office in Seoul. Teng Teng offers English-speaking service to foreign residents, and as I live in the middle of nowhere – one hospital, few specialists – I had a choice: take the bus for 1.5 hours to Donghae, where I could have been a walk-in to a Korean doctor who may or may not have understood me, or just tough it out on the 4-hour bus to Seoul and see someone with an English website who’s sure to not reduce my condition to choice words. I chose the latter.

Dr. Julius Jon was busy, but respectful and perfectly fluent in English (naturally). When it came time for a prescription he gave me two choices:

1. The standard steroid-infused cream you’d see in the US or Europe.

2. Something you’d only see in Korea. An ointment made from sesame seed oil.

I took both of them and have been monitoring the effects for some time. For now, it seems, the ointment is proving more effective than the traditional cream. Will this work for everyone? Of course not, but it’s interesting.

Travelers always talk about being open to new experiences, willing put their livelihood on the line to understand another culture, but when it comes to certain conveniences – food, medicine, bedding, exercise, depending on the individual – there’s a crevasse some just won’t leap across. People who’ve gotten used to working out in gyms might balk at Tai Chi in the park as a regular regiment. Those injured might not be willing to accept acupuncture needles as a form of anesthetic instead of “traditional” injections. I know plenty of expats who complain about sleeping on the floor as opposed to bulky beds with mattresses. Even I’m no exception, forgoing a breakfast of kimchi, rice, and seaweed soup in favor of sausage, oatmeal, toast, OJ, and fruit.

In the case of my skin, I’m glad for alternatives. Now to keep this in mind when other options arise…

One Response to Seeing the Dermatologist in Korea

  1. Andrea on April 19, 2011 at 11:41 am

    Medical/health differences always interest me when travelling in new countries. I would totally give eastern medicine a try for something non-serious. At the moment we’re in Argentina and I went looking for their version of my thyroid medicine, which we’re always told to refrigerate in Australia. Here the pharmacist not only gave me the pills without a prescription from here but said no refrigeration necessary. Not sure what to believe but it is certainly interesting!

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