Beth Craigs knew having fillers injected into her lips might be painful, but was willing to endure discomfort to get the plumped-up look made popular by celebrities.
Yet, 24 hours after the procedure, the 21-year-old was in such agony she knew something was very wrong. Her lips had swelled to twice their size and she ‘couldn’t sleep as the pain was so bad’.
‘My lips felt like concrete and the pain was spreading down my cheeks into my jaw. I’d never had fillers before and assumed it would hurt, but this was something else.’
Beth, of Wallsend, North Tyneside, is a beauty therapist. She saw an advert on Facebook offering lip fillers for £120, which she admits was ‘quite cheap compared to what it would normally be’. At a doctor-only clinic locally the same procedure would cost £240.
Claire Coleman explored the hidden dangers of getting lip fillers. Carolina Malko, 21, (pictured after) from Kent, had uneven bumps on the inside of her lips two weeks after getting fillers
She’d booked her appointment through Facebook with the beautician, who was renting a chair at a Newcastle salon.
When she was left in terrible pain, Beth messaged the beautician, who told her it was fine and she should wait 14 days for the swelling to go down — but she subsequently deleted her page and profile on Facebook.
‘I contacted a doctor who told me my reaction wasn’t normal. He prescribed steroids, and I had to have costly injections to dissolve the filler,’ Beth says.
She is horrified by the experience.
‘I had no idea that you could inject someone without having medical qualifications,’ she says. ‘The more I’ve learned, the more terrifying it is. The doctor I saw was worried that if the beautician had hit a blood vessel when she injected me, I could have had a stroke.’
Beth is one of many women whose health is being put at risk through a scandalous lack of regulation governing fillers. This is despite the fact that, in the wrong hands, consequences range from disfigurement and tissue death to sight loss and stroke.
Unlike muscle-freezing injections such as Botox, fillers — usually containing hyaluronic acid, which occurs naturally in the body — are not prescription medicines. Instead, they are classified as medical devices, which means that if I could get my hands on a syringe of filler I could, legally — and without training — charge people for lip injections.
Unbranded products from China are sold on eBay for just £9, while branded products, such as Juvederm, are available for £74.
In February, South Leicestershire MP Alberto Costa led a parliamentary debate on the regulation of non-surgical cosmetic procedures. While the Government agreed action was needed, it has no immediate plans to change legislation, preferring to rely on voluntary registration by practitioners — which won’t deter the cowboys.
Carolina (pictured before) says she assumed the clinic who did her lip fillers were medically trained as she loved the work they had posted on social media
The MP became involved after a constituent, Rachael Knappier, ended up in A&E after receiving botched fillers administered by a beautician. The 29-year-old’s lips had swollen up so much they were touching her nose.
Rachael has since started a petition calling for aesthetic medical treatments to be administered only by medical professionals.
The issue is not new. In 2005, the government chief medical officer warned that, in the wrong hands, injectables put patients at risk of permanent injury.
Then, in 2013, a government report recommended fillers be reclassified as prescription drugs. Its author, Sir Bruce Keogh, then the NHS England Medical Director, said the lack of regulation was a ‘crisis waiting to happen’. Five years on, nothing has changed.
According to Antonia Mariconda, founder of campaign group Safety In Beauty, that crisis has arrived. The group’s fifth annual audit showed complaints in 2018 were two-and-a-half times higher than in the previous year.
Of the 3,117 complaints investigated, 638 involved dermal fillers, with eight cases where people were hospitalised and three where patients suffered anaphylactic shock.
‘What is most concerning is not only that there are more complaints, but that those are coming from an increasingly younger group of individuals,’ says Mariconda.
The figures showed that in 2018, 267 cases were reported by individuals aged between 17 and 24. In 2017, that figure was just 48.
Industry insiders have dubbed the popularity of lip fillers The Kylie Effect’, as 21-year-old reality TV star Kylie Jenner (pictured) has been injecting her lips since age 16
The popularity of lip-plumping is dubbed by industry insiders ‘The Kylie Effect’ — referring to American reality star Kylie Jenner, 21, who began having lip fillers at the age of 16, to striking effect.
Administered by a medically trained professional, fillers can help create balance and definition in the lips. They may inject into the lips themselves to give volume, into the lip line for definition, or even into the skin around the lips to help define a Cupid’s bow.
But if you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s easy to inject an artery and cut off the blood supply to part of the face, leading to tissue death. A stroke can result if incorrectly administered filler travels to other areas of the body.
Most UK clinics say they won’t treat under-18s, but it is legal to inject anyone over 16. One investigation discovered only 4 per cent of clinics bothered to check patients’ ID.
And it’s younger women, with less disposable income, who are more likely to go to cheaper beauticians, rather than a qualified aesthetic doctor. They can also be easily targeted by social media.
Carolina Malko, 21, a recruitment consultant from Kent, was one of these. She says: ‘I started getting fillers, as my top lip was thinner than my bottom. It seems so silly now. I fell in love with the pictures this clinic posted on social media, they seemed to have loads of followers and worked with celebrities. I just assumed they were medically trained.’
Carolina (pictured) argues although she didn’t nearly die from her treatment, people should be educated about the possible risks
But two days after the injections Carolina says she looked ‘like a duck’ and, two weeks later, the result was uneven with bumps on the inside of her lips.
‘I know I haven’t nearly died, but we need to be educated about what can happen,’ she says.
Dr James Shilvock is the complications expert at the Consultant Clinic, staffed exclusively by medical practitioners. He says Carolina’s story doesn’t surprise him.
‘We do pro bono work, treating victims of botched aesthetic procedures. We see at least four cases a day of incorrectly placed filler. That’s not dangerous, but it’s unsightly, and upsetting. But we also regularly see occlusions, where the filler is blocking a blood vessel, and necrosis — tissue death — as a result of that.’
Recently, the company treated a 24-year-old whose necrosis was so advanced, she was in danger of losing her sight.
Dr Shilvock strongly believes most patients have no idea of the potential risks of seeing someone who isn’t medically qualified.
‘Beauticians can’t use injectable anaesthetic, just numbing cream, so the procedure is likely to hurt a lot more for a start,’ he says. ‘And if you can’t inject anaesthetic, you have to use a sharp needle, rather than a blunt cannula which is what most medics will use. Using a cannula means you’re less likely to inject filler into a vein or artery, and also less likely to get bruising and swelling.’
Dr James Shilvock of the Consultant Clinic, claims people take risks because they have the belief that they can always get the results dissolved and don’t think of lip fillers as permanent (file image)
He concedes, however, that complications can happen even with medically trained people.
‘Statistically, you’ll probably inject into an artery at some point in your career, but as a medic you know the difference between a bruise and ischaemia [when tissue is starved of oxygen]. You also know what to do when a patient has an anaphylactic reaction.’
Dr Shilvock thinks the belief that ‘if it’s not right, it can always be dissolved’ means women are more likely to take risks, as they don’t think it’s ‘permanent’. But he points out that hyaluronidase, used to dissolve filler, causes allergic reactions in about one in 7,000 people.
For Claire Edwards, 44, livid purple marks appeared above her top lip, and the skin around her nose began to itch and flake four days after she had lip fillers for the first time.
Her beautician said it was ‘just a bit of bruising’ — but Claire went for a second opinion. She says: ‘I spoke to an aesthetic doctor who told me my skin was dying.’
The filler was blocking a blood vessel, preventing oxygen from reaching her skin. The doctor injected hyaluronidase, an enzyme that breaks down the filler.
Antonia Mariconda who founded campaign group Safety In Beauty, hopes to establish 12 walk-in centres to deal with serious complications (file image)
‘It took four hours to get the blood flow going again,’ recalls Claire, a beauty therapist from Flintshire, North Wales. ‘I’m lucky not to have lost my lip.’
Claire was lucky. But Antonia Mariconda believes the number of complaints logged is just the tip of the iceberg. ‘For every complaint we get, I’d estimate that there are another nine who don’t come forward, as they’re ashamed, embarrassed or scared,’ she says.
But until the Government changes the law, speaking out is the only thing that will protect these women.
Safety In Beauty is currently working on establishing 12 walk-in centres to deal with serious complications, and will continue to lobby for legislative change.
‘I worry things won’t change until somebody actually dies,’ says Mariconda. ‘It’s just not good enough.’