Yasmin Mustafa's lunch-hour shopping therapy session in the West End of London took a surprising turn yesterday when she heard of an exotic new arrival. Clad in leather and clutching her Louis Vuitton handbag, she effused over the news that Botox, the quickie facelift, was selling at Boots, the high street chemist.
She was among a host of devotees of the "miracle injection" who responded with joy to the news that Boots was introducing the procedure at £200-a-go to four flagship stores in Oxford Street and Kensington High Street in London, Market Street in Manchester and Crown Street in Milton Keynes.
There was a palpable air of excitement on the health and beauty counter as manicured ladies took an afternoon detour to the chemist. The first phone call came in at 7.30am, with about 80 bookings by the close of day, and extra staff were brought in to field the phones.
Ms Mustafa, 30, who is a product trainer with a fashion label in London and New York, said its easy availability would fit her lifestyle perfectly. As someone who is used to traipsing the streets of Fifth Avenue in New York and Harley Street in London, she said Boots was offering her a short cut in her quest for perpetual youth.
"I'm a product of the 21st century in that I like things to be done yesterday. I lead a really stressful life in which everything is rushed. I will most certainly be using the service in the near future and I love the idea for its convenience," Ms Mustafa said.
"I'm really impressed they're providing the service and I find nothing morally objectionable in spending money on looking good. I have had Retinol treatment in New York, which gets rid of wrinkles and costs £500 so Botox seems like a great deal to me," she said.
While every Boots appointment has so far been made by women, there were men who were flirting with the idea of high street Botox.
Miguel Pacsa, a prison officer who saw himself as a personification of the modern man, had heard about the treatment on the radio and had ambled down to Oxford Street.
Dressed in a dapper suit, he talked about the pride that the "new man" was taking in his image and how this might well lead him to the door of Boots and Botox. "I think it is important to look after yourself as long as it does not become an obsession. Botox is not exactly plastic surgery and it is not just a women's service either. Women and men have equal rights in beauty now so why shouldn't I think about having it done?" asked Mr Pacsa, 32, from East Ham, London.
Stephen Boothroyd, Boots' head of new services development, said the treatment would be safely administered by a doctor in each of the four stores, which were currently offering it once a fortnight.
He said that while the treatment would not be offered without consultation or to anyone under 18, a service that was in big demand was being made easily accessible to the public.
Despite the reassurances, not everyone was enthusiastic about Botox.
The British Association of Cosmetic Doctors (BACD) expressed some concern over the administration of the botulinum toxin, one of the world's deadliest poisons.
It works by paralysing the facial muscles that make wrinkles; and it needs to be topped up every few months. Dr Patrick Bowler, the founder of the BACD, said: "This may take Botox away from a medical environment and I would prefer it to keep it under strict medical supervision."
There were further reservations sounded from the high street.
Nik Johnson, a lifestyle manager, said while many of her high-flying executive clients at work would welcome the time-saving treatment, she felt uneasy about its accessibility.
"This move into the high street just gives Botox validity. It's worrying that something designed for chemical warfare is being injected into our foreheads.
"Maybe I won't be saying this when I'm 50 but I would like to think that I will get old naturally. This kind of thing places such a pressure on us to be ever youthful. It's perpetuating the myth that you can be forever young," she said.
Another disgruntled shopper in the West End expressed graver medical concerns. "I'm a nurse and I've seen it go wrong for some who have Botox for medical reasons for such things as facial twitches. The injection can over-paralyse part of a face and even though it only lasts for three months, it can still go wrong. I'm not entirely sure I would risk it," she said.
Gary Lewis, 22, a tennis coach, was more uncompromising with his words.
"The whole idea of society chasing wrinkle-free faces is sick. Do you really want to pay for having a startled expression on your face for a few months?"
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