Injectable cosmetic treatments — whether to smooth away wrinkles, plump your lips or even give your buttocks a boost of volume — are becoming increasingly popular, especially in areas like South Florida. While these treatments can yield excellent results if performed properly and by a qualified professional, they can also lead to serious health risks and even death if not administered correctly.
A Miami woman died in April 2013 due to complications after having been given illegal silicone injections. In 2015, two women who owned and operated Bella Beauty Spa in Miami were arrested after it was discovered that they had been smuggling illegal silicone into the U.S. from Colombia and using it to inject their patients.
Unfortunately, these are not isolated incidences. More and more illegal injectors are popping up in Miami and across the country, and social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook are only making it more difficult to discern a qualified provider from an illegal injector.
“Here in Miami, we see a plethora of illegal or unlicensed injectors administering Botox, fillers, and silicone injections in clinics and hotel rooms. Some of these fillers are not what these injectors say they are and can create permanent deformities,” says Dr. Janelle Vega, Diplomate of the American Board of Dermatology and voluntary assistant professor of dermatology of the University of Miami. “I have seen these injectors even advertise on Instagram shamelessly.”
Vega also warns that many injectors in Miami are not operating under the supervision of a medical doctor, dermatologist, plastic surgeon or other trained professional.
In my own Miami practice, I have had many disfigured patients come in with severe swelling, infections and blockage of arteries after having had some type of filler injected by an illegal practitioner. In one case, a patient was injected at a licensed medi-spa here in Miami by an aesthetician. When my office called the med spa that performed these injections to find out what filler was injected, they refused to disclose what type of filler was used. This made it difficult to correct the problem and suggests that they were using an illegal filler. I have also had many patients who developed disfiguringing infections after having had “stem cell” injections done at an unlicensed Miami clinic or outside of the country.
If you’re considering getting injections, whether it’s a neuromodulator such as Botox, hyaluronic acid filler, or stem cell injections, the most important step is to make sure you choose a clinic run by an experienced and highly qualified board certified physician. When choosing an injector, here are a few red flags to watch out for:
▪ Injectors who are not working under the supervision of a board-certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon.
▪ Injectors who work out of their own home, a hotel room or another questionable location.
▪ Injectors who will not disclose what type of injectable product they are using.
▪ “Too good to be true” pricing. If you see a very low price advertised on Instagram, Facebook, or elsewhere that seems to be much lower than other prices for the same product, chances are good that this is not a reputable provider.
On the other hand, some good indicators that your injector is, indeed qualified and experienced include:
▪ He or she is a board-certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon, or works under their supervision.
▪ He or she is willing to discuss the risks and benefits of the treatment you’re considering. You should never feel pressured or coerced into agreeing to getting injections. You should be properly consented.
▪ Your injections are being performed in a sterile, safe environment, such as a medical office and not at someone’s home or in a salon/spa or dentist’s office.
If you believe that you have come across an unlicensed injector, contact the Florida Health Department by phone at 1-877-HALT-ULA (1-877-425-8852) or by email at HALTULA@flhealth.gov. This is a huge health issue that we are facing in South Florida and we need to work together to expose these illegal injectors. The more diligent both doctors and patients are about spotting illegal activity and reporting it, the safer everyone will be.
Dr. Leslie Baumann is a board-certified dermatologist, New York Times best-selling author and CEO of Baumann Cosmetic & Research Institute in Miami.