I really needed to take some time to think about this before I wrote about it, because one of the participants in the story is a woman I’ve written about before, Apryl Brown.
Brown’s story is one with a frustrating ending – she now lives as a walking reminder of the perils of black market surgery, something no one should have to do, but she’s embraced it with almost a loving quality because [it seems] she genuinely wants to help people. If anything, Brown became a victim of this phenomenon at a time when [I’m almost certain] there wasn’t enough resources out there to discourage her from doing it.
That being said, that’s why I want to amplify this: so that maybe any person out there considering this kind of body work will realize the dangers of it and, instead, choose to embrace a different goal and standard for their bodies.
Brown’s story may be severe, but she is part of what the American Society of Plastic Surgeons calls a growing problem: patients bypassing doctors just to save some money on basic medical procedures.
“I think that’s awfully seductive to a person who doesn’t know there’s a problem,” said Dr. Richard Glogau, a clinical professor of dermatology at the University of California, San Francisco. He says he is seeing a disturbing trend, as patients turn to plastic surgeons such as him after getting botched facial filler injections.
The injections are used to smooth out facial lines. Some of the patients Glogau sees have traveled out of country and had these cosmetic procedures done cheaply. Others are purchasing cosmetic fillers from websites and self-injecting these dermal fillers into their faces. Often, the patients have no idea what’s in the dermal filler, nor do they receive the procedure from a licensed medical professional.
“People assume it’s just as easy as getting your hair colored, and at the end of the day it’s a medical procedure,” Glogau said.
On the point of this being “as easy as getting your hair colored,” I think it’s important to note that the more common the procedure, the more we take for granted the potential for complications. We’re lucky enough to have licensed surgeons who are well-versed in the procedures necessary to complete a surgery… but when you’re dealing with black market surgery, you don’t have credentials. You don’t have regulations. You don’t have standards. You don’t have a consumers board to report unskilled practitioners to when things go wrong. You don’t have an insurance firm who can pay for the lawsuit you file against your black market surgeon when they botch your surgery. You don’t even have identical results between differing black market surgeons, let alone results from the same surgeon.
I’m fairly certain that none of that is even partially considered when black market booty work becomes an option.
In the United States, there are only 21 FDA approved dermal fillers. These must be administered by a medical provider or under the supervision of a physician.
None of the FDA-approved dermal filler devices is approved for self-injection. There are hundreds of nonapproved dermal fillers available around the world. But Glogau cautions against having the procedure done out of country or trying to do it yourself. “I wouldn’t do it. I think you belong in a doctor’s office where a physician is supervising this and you can depend on where they have sourced the material.”
As far as buying it online, Glogau says it’s easy for patients to take the leap.
“If we live in a world where you buy your Manolo Blahniks shoes at Neiman Marcus or you can buy them online at Zappos and it’s the same shoe, I think you’re expecting what you see on a website as full value and true.”
This was especially interesting to me because, as many of us who have been loyal and devout eBay shoppers for almost decades, now, might know…. not everything you find on the Internet is authentic, or real, or honest. But, in the quest for what we want most, we ignore all of this. All. Of. It.
I made the same argument a few years back, with regard to people injecting something identified as an hCG serum for their weight loss plan, and I got reamed for it. It’s far too easy to dupe someone who is making an impulse purchase, fueled by an odd combination of desperation and excitement, a purchase they likely didn’t research at all.
To know that, of the 21 FDA-approved sub-skin level fillers, none of them are approved for unsupervised use, which means their sale is likely highly regulated… it begs the question: if you get injections, exactly what is being injected? More importantly, how will that injection interact with anything else you might be taking?
One of his recent patients came to him after purchasing a non-FDA-approved dermal filler marketed on the Internet with just a credit card and a stroke of the keys. In a few days, the cosmetic filler she purchased from the website PMMA.com arrived postmarked from Brazil. She had her friend, who was a registered nurse, inject her face with the dermal filler.
A week later, her cheeks started to react. Glogau says it appeared that there were “red, angry nodules in the cheeks.” He had to surgically drain the area, which had “lakes of pus under the skin,” and excise the material from her cheeks.
I wanted to interject really quickly, here, because there’s a point that I think is overlooked in this story. This particular essay lumps together booty injections with facial injections, but the truth of the matter is that most women who are having facial injections can actually afford a surgeon to perform them professionally in a sterile environment with tested and approved fillers. Booty injections often affect a different community of women, many of whom cannot afford to have the procedure done professionally, and many of whom cannot afford the follow up visit with a professional board certified surgeon. This woman with “lakes of pus under her skin” was lucky that she got to the doctor early – Apryl Brown didn’t (for whatever reason) get help until her limbs were turning black.
After the surgery, Glogau had the material from her face tested. The UCSF dermatopathology results showed there was some type of “refractile material” found in her cheeks. Glogau describes the material as low-grade “glass or fiberglass.” The patient’s body was rejecting that material.
After repeated attempts by CNN to contact PMMA.com for a comment about selling non-FDA-approved dermal fillers on its website, PMMA e-mailed, “It has nothing to do with the product but the procedure.” Two days later, when CNN went to PMMA.com, all that appeared was a blank white screen and the words: “Access denied.”
The material that she injected into her face was a “low-grade glass” or “fiberglass.” What did she think she was injecting? Botox? How would a layperson even know the difference? Does a layperson even have the resources to do a test for purity? How would you not know whether or not your purchase was diluted? How would you know it wasn’t diluted with something you’re allergic to, or something that would react poorly to something else you’re already using?
And, worst of all, the site disappeared after being contacted by CNN…. because that’s what they do. When the threat of legal action is present, these sites pack up their content, shut down their domain name, and create a new website under a new name… never to be seen again. Because doing that is easier than ponying up for a lawsuit.
What’s worse, a lot of these websites are merely fronts for larger manufacturing firms who have multiple branded websites selling their product. (I know this, because I was offered my own brand of fat burner pill on two separate occasions, now.) The manufacturer produces the product, the brand sells it under their name, and the consumer buys it unaware of the manufacturer altogether. When things go wrong with the brand, the brand is liquidated and the the manufacturer replaces them with another.
At what point do we stop this?
(h/t to Mecca, Annece, Nicole, Kim, and Pam who literally all sent me this within minutes of one another. <3)