From travel to retail, almost all industries have taken a big hit during the pandemic. But while hair salons and aesthetic clinics were forced to close the same as everyone else, the beauty market has continued to excel. According to the NPD Group, skincare was the most solid category — especially through the first lockdown — as many of us contended with acne caused by face masks and other pandemic-induced skin gripes. As the world opened back up, cosmetic treatments followed skincare's lead and demand started to rise rapidly.
In a press release, Glowday reported that over a quarter of UK women feel as though lockdown has aged them and this number is higher among 25 to 34-year-olds, 44% of whom agreed. Glowday adds that this sentiment is fuelling a rise in Botox and a handful of other aesthetic treatments. The so-called 'Zoom boom' might have something to do with the increase, too. Lots of us have spent hours staring at our face on video calls, subsequently becoming more aware of our appearance, which has only magnified insecurities for some. Though anti-wrinkle injections remain popular according to Glowday, dermal filler is also incredibly in demand among people in the UK (with lips arguably the most commonly treated area), as are chemical face peels using high-strength exfoliating acids.
The pandemic has seen a surge in people training as injectors
Aesthetic treatments can be a great thing but the post-pandemic increase is giving way to a worrying trend. Job losses, pay cuts and furlough have prompted many people to rethink their career paths and as the lipstick effect proves, there's money to be made in beauty. If you're on social media, you might have been served ads for cheap beauty crash courses, which claim to teach you how to administer filler and perform other beauty procedures swiftly. A quick scroll through Twitter and TikTok shows that lots of people are enrolled in these classes, some of which are as short as a day. Nurse Shelley Folkes, ambassador of Kysense, says: "Some training days cover huge subjects in incredibly small timeframes and are advertised to people as needing no previous experience." She adds that you simply cannot teach in the required depth to ensure safety in this short amount of time.
Dr Jonquille Chantrey, a world-leading aesthetic doctor and global lecturer in beauty and wellbeing, says there has been an exponential rise in people taking filler and Botox crash courses over the last five years but even more so since the pandemic. "I think many people want to improve their financial income and see aesthetics as a quick route to do this," Dr Chantrey says, putting the popularity down to the lack of regulation which allows this to happen. At present, filler can be administered by anyone, whether they are a medical practitioner or not. Dr Magdalena Bejma, aesthetic doctor and founder of drbejma.com, agrees with Dr Chantrey. "Personally, I also know a few beauticians (who used to do nails or eyelashes) now offer a full range of injectable treatments, even high risk procedures such as nonsurgical nose jobs," which use filler to change the shape of the nose temporarily.
While Dr Chantrey acknowledges that many people have had financial difficulties during the last year, she says that public safety should be paramount, as learning injectables is a medical specialty. Dr Chantrey has been campaigning for many years to improve safety for patients and finds the lax rules around administering filler and other injectables frustrating. She reports seeing at least five clients a day with botched procedures in her clinic. "The fact that an unqualified non-medic can go on a day course with zero previous experience and start treating immediately (without any recourse in virtually any non-clinical environment) is putting more and more people at risk now," she says.
In the wrong hands, the risks of injectables like filler are endless
The lack of regulation can lead to some pretty nasty results. "At best, you may see no result at all or perhaps have a poor cosmetic outcome," says Dr Chantrey, "but technically, there are many potential side effects such as infection, which can spread rapidly." In the hands of a novice, badly administered filler can also lead to blocked blood vessels, which Shelley says is a catastrophic emergency as it can result in necrosis (death of skin tissue). "Once the blood supply has been compromised, it really is a race against time to stop permanent disfigurement," Shelley says.
Other side effects of poorly administered injectables like filler include scarring and product migration due to poor placement, says Dr Priya Verma, medical director at Nova Aesthetic Clinic. It gets worse. "Permanent blindness can occur from incorrectly administered filler, too, and this risk increases in various places of the face," says Dr Chantrey, such as the nose, popularised by nonsurgical nose jobs. When it comes to smoothing wrinkles? "Brow, eyelid or lip droop can be common side effects of botulinum toxin," Dr Chantrey continues. Botulinum toxin is perhaps more widely known by one of its trademarked names, Botox.
Thinking it might never happen to you and putting your trust in anyone — specifically injectors who only operate via social media, such as Instagram — is a dangerous game to play. Dr Bejma cites Save Face's latest figures, which show that 83% of complaints received over the last 12 months relate to injectables that were administered by non-medics like beauticians or hairdressers. She revealed that she deals with botched procedures on a weekly basis and has even opened an emergency clinic after being contacted by patients who have had a procedure by a non-medic and require urgent attention. "Typically, it’s a Sunday morning and you get contacted via Instagram with a message crying for help," she tells R29. "Most of the time, the poor patient has tried to contact their previous practitioner but got blocked or had no answer."
It seems this isn't an isolated incident. Shelley says that locally to her, there has been an obvious spike in the number of people administering injectables from various different backgrounds. "One woman had an arched eyebrow following anti-wrinkle injections," she says. "This is something that can happen but is easily rectified by a clinician who understands the mechanism of action, the response of the facial muscles and anatomy of the face. However, her practitioner panicked and started to ignore her pleas for assistance. This led to embarrassment and disillusionment for the patient."
How to find a qualified injector
Dr Chantrey says these risks are real (and can even happen in the hands of experienced practitioners) and only a properly qualified clinician — in a sanitary, well-equipped setting — will know how to minimise side effects and treat them if something does go wrong. Dr Verma suggests looking out for a number of red flags when choosing an injector. Firstly, if your injector is practising out of their home or a mobile (pop-up) station, where they might not have the proper tools or be equipped in an emergency. Secondly, your injector not being able to show you evidence of a medical certificate and thirdly, the price of the cosmetic treatment being a lot lower than all other reputable aesthetic clinics. "Your injector must also provide you with their contact details post-procedure," Dr Verma adds, "and look out for the sense that you are being coerced into a treatment," which is an obvious cause for alarm. Dr Chantrey also suggests asking about your practitioner's insurance before going ahead with any aesthetic procedure.
Booking in for injectables isn't a simple undertaking. Dr Bejma recommends having a consultation prior to any procedure, during which you can ask your injector for before-and-after photos to ensure you like their work. "Don’t feel bad asking about emergency drugs like EpiPen (in case of allergic reaction) or Hyalase (an enzyme that can dissolve filler if it goes wrong), either," she adds. "If your injector gets angry or impatient with all your questions, simply walk away."
Lastly, all experts interviewed hit home the importance of making sure the practitioner you choose is medically qualified. "This can be checked via the General Medical Council (GMC) website or the General Nursing Council (GNC)," says Dr Bejma. Similarly, Shelley suggests checking out platforms such as Glowday and Save Face. "Here, you can gain extra reassurance that training and qualifications have been third party verified," she says, while Dr Chantrey pinpoints the British College of Aesthetic Medicine as a reputable source for locating an expert.