The non-surgical cosmetic procedures industry is like the “Wild West,” say experts and campaigners, calling on the government to stop ignoring increasingly urgent calls to regulate non-invasive procedures.
The call comes after former model Linda Evangelista said she was “permanently deformed” after a non-surgical cosmetic procedure went wrong.
In an Instagram post, Evangelista said she developed complications after undergoing a procedure known as CoolSculpting, or cryolipolysis, which involves killing fat cells by “freezing” them with a machine. The drastic change in her appearance had turned her into a recluse and resulted in a period of deep depression, she said.
Evangelista is far from the only high-profile celebrity to have cosmetic surgery and so-called non-invasive procedures – Kylie Jenner admitted she has lip fillers, and designer Marc Jacobs has gone so far. to document her facelift on Instagram. On the Love Island TV show – awash with perfectly sculpted young things – Faye Winter was open about fillers and breast implants, while former glamor model Katie Price defended a decision earlier this year to fly away for a Red List country during a pandemic to do cosmetic surgery.
While the dangers of non-surgical cosmetic procedures are a global problem, the problem is particularly dangerous in the UK, where anyone can perform life-threatening procedures with little or no training, said Ashton Collins, director of Save Face, a national, government-approved registry of accredited non-surgical treatment practitioners. “The magnitude of the problem is enormous,” she said.
The organization has seen the number of complaints drop from 378 in 2017 to 2,083 in 2020. In one of the most serious cases handled by the organization, a woman said she had such serious injuries from the treatment. that she contracted sepsis and was in the hospital in a coma for five days. But the number of complaints to Save Face was probably the “tip of the iceberg,” she said: “There are a lot of serious medical side effects that come with these treatments – but because they are. classified as beauty treatments, anyone can do them.
Of the treatments complained of, 86% were performed by beauticians, hairdressers, or laypersons (“who can literally learn on YouTube and buy their products on the Internet,” Collins said), and 81 % of complainants found their practitioner on social networks. . Clients were often unaware of the risks, she said: 93% were unaware of serious complications and thought the treatments were low-risk beauty treatments, 83% did not give informed consent, and 84 % were ignored or blocked by their practitioner when they tried to ask for help.
Collins has accused the government of being fully aware of the dangers of unregulated aspects of the cosmetic surgery industry since a damning review by NHS medical director Professor Sir Bruce Keogh in 2013. But a year-long investigation into non-surgical beauty treatments by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Beauty, Aesthetics and Wellness published in July this year concluded that the UK government had failed to cope with a rapid increase in request.
Labor MP Carolyn Harris, who co-chaired the inquiry, said at the time that there was still a “complete lack” of regulation of treatments like injections and botox-like fillers in the UK. “It’s like the Old West,” she says. “We have people selling training that is not worth the paper it’s written on. We have practitioners who destroy the reputation of the industry by practicing without any qualifications and we have victims who are marked for life.
At the time of the review, the Department of Health and Social Affairs said it would take a close look at its recommendations.
On Friday evening, a spokesperson said: “Our number one priority is patient safety, and we are considering whether more clarity is needed on how treatments are categorized, while also assessing the need for stronger safeguards. around the most invasive non-surgical cosmetic. procedures. “
From October, it will become illegal for those under the age of 18 to receive Botox, after the passage of the Botulinum toxin and cosmetic fillers (children) law of 2021, following a draft led by MP Laura Trott. Almost half of the complainants who came to Save Face were between 18 and 25 years old; in 2019-2020, he was aware of 45 treatments given to those under 18, including children as young as 15, who had had lip and cheek fillers.
“These procedures are not only completely unnecessary – no child needs cosmetic Botox – but potentially dangerous,” said Trott, who said he saw complications such as blindness, difficulty in breathing, infection, filling himself. moving around the face, decaying tissue, lip amputations and bumps. .
“We don’t expect something that we can easily, and very legally, do in the comfort of our own home to be something that can blind us – but shockingly it is,” he said. she declared.
Ash Mosahebi, professor of plastic surgery and board member of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (Baaps), said there was a growing trend, before the pandemic, to travel to places like Thailand or Turkey, where the procedures were cheaper. “I hope the majority are doing well, but if people are treated badly and they come back and something is wrong, there is nothing you can do. Then it’s a matter of emergency treatment, and it becomes an NHS problem, ”he said.
The issue was not just a matter of regulation, but of equality, said Mandu Reid, leader of the Women’s Equality Party – Baaps figures show women made up 92% of all cosmetic procedures in 2020 .
“The overwhelming beauty standards and expectations that women have in the public eye [face] causing serious damage, not only because of the direct consequences for women like Linda, but also because of the message it sends to generations of women and girls, ”she said.
The Guardian has contacted Allergan, owner of the CoolSculpting technology, for comment.