Demand for Botox soars during lockdown – but what are the risks?

Save Face – a UK government-approved register of accredited cosmetic practitioners – has reported a 40 per cent surge in traffic to its website.

There is evidently a growing demand for treatments designed to improve physical appearance.The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) says its doctors have had a 70 per cent increase in requests for virtual consultations since the first lockdown. 

It's estimated that six million people in the UK are believed to be considering cosmetic treatments as a result of what as been dubbed ‘lock-down face’, caused by a mixture of weight gain, mask wearing and too much staring at a screen. In fact, seeing ourselves on Zoom has meant we are all far more aware of our flaws than ever before.

There are plenty of fillers and injectables to choose from, but Botox continues to be one of the most popular treatments.

What is Botox?

Botox is a trademarked name for a specific botulinum toxin type A product - a purified substance that's derived from bacteria. Other brands are available, including Vistabel, Dysport, Bocouture, and Azzalure. 

Here's the science bit - botulinum toxin acts by blocking acetylcholine, the chemical which transmits electrical impulses that cause muscle contractions. It is usually injected into the face to temporarily paralyse the muscles and has a temporary effect on the reduction of fine lines and wrinkles. It is also used to treat certain medical conditions, including Hyperhidrosis, neuromuscular disorders and migraines.

From a cosmetic perspective, Botox smoothes out lines and wrinkles, such as frown lines and crow’s feet. The aim is to rejuvenate your looks rather than bringing permanent change or turning back the years, with the effects lasting from four to six months. 

Results can be seen after three to five days, with full effects evident after a couple of weeks.  The aim is for your friends and family to notice that you’re looking fresh-faced and vital, without being able to put their finger on what you’ve had done. 

Risks from Botox

Unfortunately, last year it was reported that the number of problems related to ‘tweakments’ (the term used for minor cosmetic procedure that don’t involve being cut open or going under general anaesthetic) shot up. 

'We've seen a huge rise in complaints – last year we had 934 in comparison to 378 the previous year, with lip fillers being the most common complaint,' said Save Face’s director Ashton Collins. 'The nature of the complications ranged from unsightly lumps to infections and vascular occlusions, where the artery becomes blocked and it can lead to compromise of the tissue and permanent scarring.'

Save Face highlighted that their research revealed that 83 per cent of injectables were performed by beauticians, hairdressers or laypeople

Professor Ash Mosahebi, deputy editor of British Plastic Surgery Journal (JPRAS) commented: ‘It does worry me a lot that some people are putting their health at risk by opting to have their Botox carried out by amateurs in beauty salons, hairdressers or even by mobile therapists who come to your home to give Botox injections, instead of going along to a registered clinic or hospital.’

Experts are urging patients to be especially cautious of Botox parties, where the practitioner may be distracted, your guard maybe down and you may feel less inclined to speak up if you’re uncomfortable with the practitioner due to group pressure. 

'You may think these are more convenient, and sometimes cheaper ways to have a treatment done, but Botox is a specialist medical treatment and it’s important to understand that the delivery of cosmetic injectables should be given by a trained cosmetic doctor or nurse,' said Prof Mosahebi. 'This is because it involves tiny amounts of a toxin being injected into your face to relax facial muscles, and there are potential risks and complications with any procedure.'

Making sure your Botox treatment is safe

Most of the time there are no side-effects involved with Botox if given by an expert in hygienic conditions. However, if you're pregnant or breastfeeding, you shouldn’t have Botox injections as the effects on the baby aren't known.

Doctors know the risks, and in the very rare cases where something does go wrong, they have the adequate training to swing into action if needs be. For instance, if injections are done in the wrong places, the medicine may move into areas of the face where it wasn’t planned to go, resulting in a temporary weakness or droopiness of your facial features, such as an eyelid or eyebrow. There may be bruising around the injections site, and some people experience flu-like symptoms, or headaches, for 24 hours after receiving treatment. In rare cases, more serious complications can develop in the hours, days or weeks after treatment, this might be blurred or double vision, if the area around the eyes is injected, or breathing difficulties, if the neck area was injected. Of course there is also the risk of infection and blood poisoning if the environment you’re in isn’t a clinical one. Anyone who experiences problems should contact the clinic they visited immediately or see their GP or go to A&E. 

Who should perform Botox procedures?

While many surgeons undergo extra training to ensure they know how to do cosmetic procedures properly, this is not required by law – and in many cases, doctors are not skilled in the procedures they offer. 

You may run the risk of unknowingly having a cosmetic procedure with someone who has not been properly trained. This is because even though Botox has to be prescribed by a doctor or nurse practitioner, they don’t have to have undergone any special training to administer it. 

A Botox session usually involves about 10 injections into facial muscles, so ideally you should see someone who has an understanding of the anatomy of the face, as a GP or a gynaecologist isn’t trained in all the different facial muscles, or have knowledge of bone structure, muscles and skin, like a doctor with qualifications in plastic surgery and dermatology or a cosmetics nurse.  It’s all about getting the balance of the face right, so you don’t end up with a frozen forehead. The wealth of knowledge from years of training and consultations is invaluable for patients. 

Who can give Botox injections?

In the UK certain nurse practitioners who work under a doctor can be qualified to administer Botox, but it needs to be in a doctor’s practise or clinic and someone who is medically trained. The responsibility for ensuring its given safety still lies with the person who’s written the prescription, the doctor, dentist, pharmacist or nurse practitioner. 

Although the risks will be minimal with a qualified cosmetic surgeon, if anything does go wrong they will be fully insured, and have the medical expertise to keep you safe. 

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