British plastic surgeons are becoming increasingly worried about a growing Botox "party" culture in which injections are dispensed by unqualified, unsupervised people.
With Botox injections now available across the UK, and so-called "Botox parties" continuing to grow in popularity, experts have warned that there could be serious repercussions if the commercialisation of the procedure is allowed to grow unchecked.
The substance is most commonly injected into the face to remove signs of ageing. It was licensed for cosmetic use in the US four months ago, and its popularity and commercial use have increased to what some perceive to be dangerous levels.
In the US examples are already surfacing in the press of a "dangerous black market" growing up around the toxin. Anxiety over the trend is growing this side of the Atlantic, too. Dr Patrick Bowler, the chairman of the British Association of Cosmetic Doctors who has been working in the field for 15 years, is particularly concerned by the fad for "Botox parties".
"I see people coming into the surgery with problems as a result of Botox put in improperly at parties," said Dr Bowler. Often complaints over the outcome are about heavy eyebrows, droopy eyelids, or one eyebrow fixed higher than the other. "There's a sense of 'have another drink darling and we can just pop this poison into you'. It's very serious and it does need looking at."
One of the main dangers with these parties, Dr Bowler said, was the combination of alcohol and Botox. "Drink increases blood flow to the skin. This could mean that you end up with Botox in a place where you don't want it."
Botox is a prescription medicine, licensed for a variety of conditions including cerebral palsy and muscular spasms, but not, in the UK, for cosmetic use. The active ingredient is botulinum toxin, which can lead to a potentially fatal bout of botulism if ingested in a strong enough dose. In an extremely diluted form the substance will restrict muscle contractions, effectively freezing skin movement, and making that part of the body look smooth and wrinkle-free.
Dr Bowler, who has already made a number of official complaints about the unsupervised injection of Botox by unqualified individuals, believes it is a problem the Government needs to address. "There ought to be a government department to sit down and talk to interested parties about how this area could be regulated."
Dr Tracy Mountford, a cosmetic doctor of 12 years' experience, backed Dr Bowler's arguments. "What I am particularly against is the use of alcohol at these Botox parties," said Dr Mountford, who has clinics in Buckinghamshire and Knightsbridge. "If somebody has been drinking alcohol before a Botox injection, it can lead to substantial bruising, because alcohol thins the blood. On top of that, if they have been drinking before signing a consent form, that also raises issues."
One woman to fall victim to an erroneous Botox injection was Sonia Browne, 31, a mother of two from Kent. Within a week of visiting her local beauty salon for a £150 treatment, Ms Browne found that she could barely open her eyes, and could not move her upper facial muscles at all.
"There is a huge difference between the clinics who know what they are doing, and those that don't," she said. "They completely over-estimated my dose. It was frighteningly bad. My eyebrow muscles were paralysed, my eyes could only half open and I looked as if I was asleep."
Despite these dangers, many in the industry remain unconcerned – reinforcing the fears of Dr Bowler.
Giselle O'Carroll, 33, a South African who has been living in the UK for 13 years, runs monthly "cheese and wine" themed Botox parties in Southampton with her husband, Jeff, a dentist. "It's all very comfortable, very casual – it's not very serious at all," said Mrs O'Carroll, whose husband charges £250 to inject their guests with Botox. "It's a real party atmosphere: they absolutely love it. The parties start at 7pm and normally finish around midnight. Sometimes they can go on until 3am. We stay open until the last one goes."
Mrs O'Carroll, who readily admitted that their "patients" were supplied with wine before the procedure, said that she had never heard it was dangerous to mix alcohol with Botox. "The ladies love to chat and watch what is being done to each other. Sometimes the party spills over into the garden. We play music and show videos."
Mrs O'Carroll, who began hosting Botox parties last June, said that she had received a number of the injections herself.
"I've had it all," she said. "I've had my lips done, Botox injected three times, and I'm currently in the process of a smile makeover. All I need is a boob job and then I will be 100 per cent."
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