The Real Life Horrors of Booking Filler Through Instagram

Photographed by Meg O'Donnell
Before social media, aesthetic procedures such as lip filler and Botox were often only associated with celebrities who could afford them. But with the rise of influencer culture, increasing affordability and growing acceptance, these treatments are booming among young women in the UK.
It's safe to say we're a lot more open about having cosmetic work. Instagram in particular is facilitating the uptick in popularity, as social media provides an opportunity for beauty specialists and aesthetics businesses to reach a worldwide audience. It isn’t unusual to see before-and-after pictures of women with facial fillers — whether they have chosen to enhance their lips, cheeks or chin — while scrolling through your feed. Wrinkle-busting Botox, brow lamination, lash perms and microblading are also likely to come up on your explore page or as a paid advert. All of this makes finding a specialist quick and easy.
On Instagram, trusted specialists such as Dr Elif Clinic and SKNDOCTOR have racked up thousands of followers. Their appeal? They are young women themselves and easily achieve a rapport with their clients. They know exactly what their patients want and can help them achieve their desired look. But for every reputable expert using Instagram to promote their business, there is a charlatan doing the same. They may win you over with impressive pictures and positive reviews but the Instagram aesthetics business is something of a Wild West, and the extreme dangers can't be ignored.
When you finally pinpoint an 'expert' or clinic you like the look of on Instagram, it can be hard to know if the people running these pages are fully qualified. According to plastic surgeon and Botched star, Dr Paul Nassif, there is a shocking lack of regulation in the aesthetics business here. "From what I know, in the UK, anyone can do fillers or Botox," he told R29. In other words, you do not need to be a legitimate, qualified expert to administer filler or Botox, nor do you have to prove your qualifications to advertise an aesthetics business on Instagram. "This is so dangerous," Dr Nassif continues, "as we're seeing people emerge with horrible infections as a result of complications."

For every reputable expert using Instagram to promote their business, there is a charlatan doing the same. They may win you over with impressive pictures and positive reviews but the dangers can't be ignored.

Lately, more and more women have come forward on social media to share horror stories of being treated by unqualified aestheticians who have catfished them online with impressive before-and-after shots and promises of perfect features. Often, these women have to undergo several procedures to correct botched cosmetic work done by those lacking the skills. Treating patients with severe complications is something Dr Daniel Ezra, ophthalmologist, oculoplastic surgeon and consultant surgeon at Moorfields Eye Hospital, knows all too well. Saraya* recently asked for his help after visiting an aesthetician she discovered via Instagram. She had undergone an under-eye filler procedure (sometimes known as tear-trough filler) but had experienced skin necrosis, a condition which causes the skin tissue to turn blue and eventually die.
Saraya's aesthetician came highly recommended but what swayed her was their Instagram page. "It had countless photos and reviews," Saraya told Refinery29. While she had a positive experience and was initially happy with the results, major, potentially life-changing issues arose months later. "My eyes started to swell and form huge sacs of fluid which caused extreme pain and discomfort," said Saraya. She went back to the clinic but aftercare fell short. "I wasn’t seen as urgently as I should have been, and this caused a delay in my healing process," she said. "As a result, I had to do extensive research to seek guidance and treatment from another professional aesthetician because I could have faced serious complications that would have impacted me in the long run."

In the UK, you do not need to be a legitimate, qualified expert to administer filler or Botox, nor do you have to prove your qualifications to advertise an aesthetics business on Instagram.

Dr Ezra’s assistant told R29 that when Saraya first visited, she had infections on both sides of her face, which was an indication that her previous aesthetician did something very wrong. "Either they didn't clean the area properly or they used an old syringe," reported Dr Ezra's clinic. "Unfortunately, this practitioner didn't even treat the area properly, injecting the abscess with antibiotics. This caused skin necrosis (the death of skin cells), and Dr Ezra had to perform emergency surgery." Dr Ezra dissolved the filler with hyalase (filler correction), gave Saraya antibiotics and did not refill the area. Essentially he saved her from perhaps losing her sight and from being severely disfigured. Other reputable experts report seeing clients with large lumps and cysts as a result of botched lip filler performed by Instagram aestheticians. This is one of the most popular filler procedures.
The dangers aren't always filler-related, though. Eyelash perms, brow lamination and brow microblading are a handful of treatments which are booming on Instagram and have been known to cause skin reactions when performed by those who aren't properly qualified. Instagram accounts like @safetyinbeauty, which features rather graphic videos and pictures of women who have had work and treatments done by untrained aestheticians, have cropped up to raise awareness and to share advice on how to seek help. Ultimately though, Instagram must take some responsibility for the businesses which set up pages on the app.
This is not a call to ban all aesthetics businesses from Instagram. Rather the platform needs to implement additional steps for people setting up an aesthetics page. Currently, anyone can create an Instagram account for their beauty business. Perhaps Instagram should require a full list of qualifications from aestheticians beforehand. Additionally, it should be mandatory that all beauty businesses have an official website. Many aesthetics businesses take appointments through direct message and according to dermatologists and qualified aesthetics experts, this is often a sign that the technician may not be following proper protocol. 

I had under-eye filler. Some months later, my eyes started to swell and form huge sacs of fluid which caused extreme pain and discomfort.

There are a number of things you can do to safeguard yourself and to ensure that the aesthetician you choose is properly qualified, too. A popular website is Glowday, dubbed the "Airbnb of aesthetics". It provides a list of trusted aestheticians and presents reviews, as well as before-and-after photos, with a breakdown of each treatment. Dermatologists and aesthetics experts recommend Save Face, which is a website that features a government-approved register to find trustworthy nonsurgical practitioners, while the General Medical Council register is also helpful for researching your chosen doctor.
So what should you be looking out for when scanning these websites? Dr Nassif tells R29 that it's essential to do your research and to ask your specialist about their relevant training and experience. "Let's say you found a place on Instagram; the next step is to find out if they have a website. Then ask: Who is doing the injections? Is it a doctor? Do they have a lot of experience in this? Does the website advocate before-and-afters?" An initial consultation is also a must, so that you can talk through the procedure from start to finish and really get a feel for your aesthetician.
As our lives move increasingly online, the way we shop products and book in for beauty treatments has changed. This isn’t inherently a bad thing but it does mean we have to be extra cautious. Despite a bad experience, Saraya said she would continue to use Instagram to locate a beauty specialist in the future. But like Dr Nassif, she hits home the importance of doing extensive research into the background of who you choose, rather than diving into treatments headfirst just because they look great on Instagram. There’s a risk you take when you book with any beauty professional (particularly where filler is concerned) so it's crucial to be armed with information on how your chosen practitioner provides aftercare and to know who to contact if things don't go to plan. Anything less could be detrimental to your safety.
*Name has been changed

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