“Filler Ruined My Lips” – The Risks Of ‘Pop-Up’ Beauty Clinics

Photographed by Megan Madden.
The desirability of aesthetic procedures, such as Botox and dermal filler, is fast growing among millennials. In 2020, injectables are no longer regarded as taboo; rather, they are a cosmetics boost, and as a result of their growing popularity, clinics are cropping up all over the UK. It is now quick, easy and relatively cheap to book in for a procedure. But it's also difficult to know whether your chosen practitioner can be trusted to deliver the best and safest results.
Recently, a handful of aesthetic and dermatology experts, such as Dr Baldeep Farmah at Dr Aesthetica and Dr Tijion Esho, cosmetic doctor and owner of Esho Clinic in London and Dubai, have noticed a rise in 'pop-up' or mobile clinics. The aesthetic practitioners involved tend to move between salons and other makeshift stations, performing a number of procedures (most popularly filler) before moving on to the next location.
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"You can barely move in most major cities without coming across a pop-up clinic or mobile practitioner," said Dr MJ Rowland-Warmann, aesthetician and founder of Smileworks. "They can be found in salons, nail bars and tanning shops. You name it, there's likely to be someone offering filler in the back room."
Dr Esho's thoughts on pop-up clinics are varied. "If they are hosted by medical staff within a clinical environment and have a follow through process and an emergency contact team in place, then they can be great. Many times, however, this isn’t the case and they are usually non-medical practitioners treating in places such as the back of beauty salons and gyms with none of the above." Of course, this leaves patients very vulnerable.

"I was left with an enormous cyst on the right side of my upper lip, which is still there months later."

Patient safety is the main worry. Makeshift clinics are often lacking safety equipment otherwise found at legitimate dermatology clinics to treat patients in acute emergencies, according to Dr Esho. Some even lack proper surgical beds, say experts, and treat individuals on folding chairs or sofas.
If complications arise, it is also possible that your practitioner may live miles away from their temporary base, and won't be able to see you for a routine follow up. Even more risky, the practitioner might have moved on entirely. In that case, who do you go to with an issue? “A lot of people wait until that practitioner is available at their local salon," said Dr Farmah. "While this might be acceptable to minor concerns, this would cause significant concerns with more serious complications such as vascular occlusion, where the blood supply is restricted due to filler being inserted into the blood vessel," he continued.
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In fact, Dr Aesthetica has seen an increase in complications from external pop-up clinics. "We recently had a call from a woman who needed urgent medical attention," Dr Farmah told R29. "This woman had lip fillers with a pop-up beautician which resulted in poor product placement leading to a very nasty infection. Consequently, she required antibiotics and immediate dissolving."
Dr Rowland-Warmann also cites tissue death and disfiguring or scarring to botched jobs at pop-ups, which don't have proper procedures in place. Dr Esho mentioned that a routine follow up appointment as well as an emergency phone number should always be provided. "Unfortunately, with many pop-ups, the practitioner often does not give any of those and has moved on, leaving the patient to deal with problems on their own, whether that's visiting their GP for help, or in some circumstances, making a trip to A&E." In many cases, though, your GP or A&E may not regularly see these complications. "This leads to possible further delays in management that can affect your long term outcome and health," added Dr Esho.

"The standards for hygiene and cross-infection control are often abysmal."

Dr Farmah attributes the popularity of pop-up clinics to a lack of regulations in the aesthetic industry. “Unfortunately a lot of aesthetic experts are not experts," warns Dr Farmah. "At present due to UK law, a lot of these treatments can be done by anyone. I always advise seeing a medical professional with appropriate training and insurance. Be sure to check reviews and do some research on who is injecting you."
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Dr Rowland-Warmann agrees. "Practitioners can set up pretty much anywhere without any real regard for the safety of the people they are treating. Often they are run by people with no medical background, who see aesthetics as a way to make money quickly." Dr Esho believes the rise in pop-up clinics is down to accessibility. "Today’s lifestyle is very fast paced and younger patients want ease of access to services. Many of the best places for aesthetic treatments have waiting lists and for many patients this can lead to impatience."
Hygiene is also an important factor to consider, and aside from cysts, infection is rife. "The standards for hygiene and cross-infection control are often abysmal," said Dr Rowland-Warmann. "The kind of place where you would go for a haircut is vastly different to the kind of place you would want to undertake a medical procedure. Often, the people treating patients in these venues also have very little understanding of what this difference is."
Research conducted by Refinery29 also showed that corners are cut where possible. We found a number of pop-up clinics advertising their services on Instagram. One encouraged individuals interested in filler to make an appointment via direct message. R29 found that there was no mention of a consultation (detrimental at dermatology clinics), proper age validation or any enquiries into past medical history, which is likely to put people at risk. But the procedures are cheap. At various dermatology clinics in London, 1ml of filler could set you back £500. One pop-up suggested a price of £180 and offered a booking incentive of 25% off over the festive period.
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"Practitioners can set up pretty much anywhere without any real regard for the safety of the people they are treating."

You only have to scroll through the comments on Instagram pages of pop-up clinics or head to Twitter to see that many people are not happy with their treatments. A handful of women have mentioned rushed appointments with practitioners getting to work and injecting filler with no questions asked, often resulting in substandard results.
Poor treatment is something Sophia* has experienced in the past. She visited a makeshift clinic inside a converted house, as a friend was training there. "I saw accreditations and certificates on the walls, so thought it would be trustworthy," she told R29. "I filled out a form with my details then an aesthetician did my filler. She struggled, so four other aestheticians came over and had a go! I was left with an enormous cyst on the right side of my upper lip, which is still there months later. My lips looked ruined and I was distraught for months. I threatened them with legal action but I just received lots of abuse via text from the owner. The whole experience was awful."
If you are interested in an aesthetic procedure such as filler, it pays to do your research. Firstly, make sure you go to a dedicated practise, advises Dr Rowland-Warmann, with treatment rooms designed for the purpose of providing medical care. If it is a single chair at the back of a beauty salon, alarm bells should ring. Secondly, ensure that there is a team of staff on hand to help you with every aspect of your procedure, from booking to a consultation and informing you beforehand, as well as a follow up.
Most importantly, Dr Rowland-Warmann and Dr Esho strongly advise ensuring you are being treated by a registered medical professional. You can check their credentials on the General Medical Council register or SaveFace, but it's also a good idea to ask them about their experience, including how long they have been practising and whether they are able to provide before and after pictures. "A good practitioner should have good quality pictures to back themselves up," said Dr Rowland-Warmann. She also suggests scouring their website for accreditations with relevant regulatory bodies, insurances and affiliations, as well as information about all the services they provide.

Dr Esho concludes that you should always have an informed consultation prior to any treatment. This is when you can discuss the risks and benefits. Also ensure that there is a routine follow up appointment and an emergency plan with a contact number once you have had your chosen procedure.
*Name has been changed.

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