'Disfigured' women plan to sue over skin fillers

As surgeons caution against treatments designed for cancer patients being used for cosmetic purposes, the consumer group Which? is calling for tighter regulation of clinics, and one patient left permanently scarred tells of the devastating psychological impact

Thousands of women hoping to fill out their faces to give them features like Scarlett Johansson's risk being deformed by unsightly lumps, surgeons and consumer groups warned last night.

Bio-Alcamid, a skin filler, is designed to replace tissue lost by people suffering from wasting conditions or who have had large tumours removed. However, it has been taken up by the cosmetic surgery industry as a way to plump up the skin of those seeking to remain looking youthful.

Now several patients are planning legal action against clinics in the UK that carried out the procedure, which involves injecting the water-based gel under the skin, saying they have been disfigured.

The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) warned against the use of permanent skin fillers for cosmetic reasons, and said that regulations governing the treatments were "not what you expect".

Which?, the consumer group, also called on the Government to "guarantee a basic level of safety" for people undergoing such procedures.

The company that markets Bio-Alcamid worldwide told The Independent on Sunday it was "not necessarily the best product" for cosmetic enhancement, saying it was designed for medical use, but insisted the rate of adverse effects was low.

Bio-Alcamid and similar fillers have been recommended by cosmetic practitioners to those seeking high cheekbones. Karon Kitchen, a former fitness instructor, disagrees. She is considering legal action against the clinic where she received injections of Bio-Alcamid in July 2005. She had wanted to "look my best" for her wedding in December of that year. Instead, she was left looking like "a victim of domestic violence" and cancelled her wedding. Three and a half years later – after numerous attempts to correct the problem – she still has lumps on her face.

"This completely destroyed everything for me. Depression, anxiety, not wanting to go out – it takes away your life. You are full of self-blame, self-loathing because you had it done in the first place," said Ms Kitchen, who now lives overseas.

Sarah Payne, of south London, who works in the cosmetics industry, is also seeking to take legal action against the clinic where she received treatment.

Rajiv Grover, a plastic surgeon and secretary of the BAAPS, said: "No permanent filler is safe and no safe filler is permanent. If you want to use a filler, use a temporary filler."

Temporary fillers are completely absorbed by the body over time and have been considered safe. However, last Friday the US Food and Drug Administration released a report warning about dermal fillers generally, saying that they could result in facial palsy and disfigurement.

Jenny Driscoll, health campaigner for Which?, said the Government should tighten up regulations. "There is too much onus on the consumer to make sure the product is safe and effective," she said. "There are more and more products, such as skin fillers, being used for cosmetic purposes for which they were never intended."

John McCahill, chief executive of the Ascente Medical Corporation, which markets Bio-Alcamid, said that the company estimated the rate of adverse effects was below 0.5 per cent. But he added: "There are a lot of practitioners that will pick this up and use it for cosmetic purposes. It's not necessarily the best product for that."

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