The Government may shelve plans to regulate the industry, giving licence to rogue injectors of the drug

Unqualified "Botox cowboys" could be given carte blanche to administer the treatment - putting many patients at risk of serious side effects, according to health professionals.

The Independent Healthcare Advisory Services (Ihas), an influential medical lobby group that includes Bupa, Nuffield and BMI Hospitals, fears the Department of Health might shelve plans to regulate the booming Botox industry.

Although the Government has accepted the need to control cosmetic injections, some health professionals fear it could put aside plans for new regulations. This would give licence to the growing number of rogue injectors to continue dispensing the drug.

A growing obsession with smooth skin and wrinkle-free complexions has led to an explosion in beauty salons, nail parlours and hairdressers across the country offering Botox and other dermal fillers. About £100m was spent in the UK on non-surgical cosmetic procedures last year, but the safety of thousands of unregistered providers remains unmonitored.

Potential side-effects from botched treatments include skin necrosis - where tissue becomes blackened and dies - facial paralysis and semi-permanent double vision.

"We have moved from a situation where the Government has recognised a risk and need for regulation, to a situation where [it] appears to be looking for a way to back out," said Paul Stapleton, managing director of the Mapperley Park Clinic in Nottingham and a member of Ihas.

Dr Patrick Bowler, chairman of the British Association of Cosmetic Doctors, echoed the concerns of Ihas. "We were promised we'd have legislation in October, then it was pushed back to next April and now they're saying they're not sure when it's going to happen," he said. "It's low in the Government's priorities. That concerns me, because it is a public safety issue."

A number of celebrities have reportedly suffered unpleasant side effects after Botox treatment, among them Hollywood stars Teri Hatcher and Angelica Huston. Last month, actress Felicity Kendal complained of a bad experience with the drug, which she claimed made her look "spooky".

A government spokesman said: "The Department of Health [is] considering the form of regulation that would provide the best approach for treatment providers and their patients."

Additional reporting by David Collins