Observers

People claiming to be trained professionals have been advertising lip injections on social media alongside photos showing how they can make your lips “more luscious”. Ads for this cheap procedure have attracted large numbers of clients, many of them extremely young, who aspire to certain standards of beauty. But many of these customers don’t consider the danger, or the illegality, of these procedures, which are being done all over France.

Most of these ads are for hyaluronic acid injections, which can be done with a syringe or a special, needle-less device. This acid, which is naturally present in the human body, is also synthetically produced as a dermal filler, adding volume to various parts of your face (cheeks, lips, under your eyes). It’s considered an “invasive medical device” when it is injected.

This screengrab shows an Instagram story advertising hyaluronic acid injections.

This Instagram account advertises hyaluronic acid injections.
 

"It was like she was butchering me for 15 to 20 minutes"

Twenty-six-year-old Sheyma (not her real name) got a lip injection at beauty salon called Beauty Bar Time in Villeurbanne, France in November 2019.
 
I contacted the beauty salon on SnapChat and they told me to make an appointment on Planity [Editor’s note: a website where you can make appointments online with different salons]. I had already had lip injections done once at a clinic but I decided to go to Beauty Bar Time because it was much cheaper. There, a 1 ml injection cost 180 euros, whereas the same treatment cost 300 euros in a clinic.

When I got to the building where Beauty Bar Time was located, I didn’t see any kind of sign so I had to call them to get in. The beauty salon was in an apartment. The living room was set up as the reception. In the back, there was a kind of bedroom with a few different beds so they could treat multiple clients at once. There were three women working there. The one named Cookie was in charge of the lip injections. She said she was “certified”, but I didn’t ask any questions. The two other women were doing skincare treatments, eyelashes.
 
"She didn’t ask me how old I was or if I had any medical problems”

Cookie didn’t ask me how old I was or if I had any medical problems. She put on gloves and she used a needle to inject my lips. I didn’t ask her what product she was using because I thought it was hyaluronic acid.

It felt like she was butchering me, jabbing me all over. In total, it was about 15 or 20 minutes of suffering, even though it didn’t hurt at all when I went to the clinic. At the end, she took a video of my lips at a good angle so that she could post it on SnapChat. You could only pay in cash or by Paypal.
 
"Little lumps appeared”

I had bruises on my lips for the next 15 days. When I did the procedure at the clinic, the bruises only lasted for five days. After the 15 days, little brown marks and small lumps appeared on my upper lip. I waited to see if they’d go away, but they never did.


These are Sheyma’s lips, more than six months after she got an injection from "Beauty Bar Time".
 
I re-contacted Beauty Bar Time on Instagram on May 29 to tell them about the complications that I had experienced. I also asked for a reimbursement and told them that I was going to file a complaint and give them bad publicity. They never responded and, instead, blocked me so I can’t send them any more messages.

In the end, I got an appointment with a surgeon to get everything removed [Editor’s note: An enzyme, hyaluronidase, can be used to dissolve hyaluronic acid, if that happens to be the product that was injected.] I asked the surgeon to write a statement that I could use when filing a complaint.

Stories like this are incredibly common. Many have been shared on the "Fake Injectors" Instagram account, which tries to raise awareness about the dangers of getting an injection from someone who is untrained and doesn’t have the proper authorization to administer that kind of treatment.

This young teenager also had complications after getting a lip injection at Beauty Bar Time. Her story was shared on the "Fake Injectors" Instagram account.
 
Our team tried to contact Beauty Bar Time using the WhatsApp number listed on Planity, but we didn’t get a response.

This image, taken in early June, shows the Beauty Bar Time Instagram account.

 

Why these practices are so problematic...

These practices are problematic for a number of reasons. First of all, the people who advertise these injections on Instagram often remain vague about their qualifications. They describe themselves as “professionals”, “practitioners” or “certified technicians” without giving any specifics.
 
Claiming to be medical doctors

Some of the people advertising their services go even further and actually falsely claim to be medical doctors. However, our team searched the directory of certified doctors via the French Medical Board and didn’t find their names. These false claims are a crime, punishable by prison time and a 15,000 euro fine, under French law.

Some people advertising injections online falsely claim to be medical doctors (screengrab #1), while others say they are “certified technicians” (screengrabs #2 and #3) without giving any more details.

Illegal medical practice

In France, only doctors are allowed to inject hyaluronic acid under a patient’s skin, according to several doctors who spoke to our team, including experts from the Paris Court of Appeals.

If you aren’t a doctor and inject this product anyway, then you could face two years in prison and a 30,000 euro fine for illegal medical practice, according to the French criminal code.

This excerpt from an Instagram story shows a woman doing an injection with a needle.

Some practitioners seem to think that they can do these treatments legally using a device called a Hyaluron Pen. Instead of a needle, the Pen uses compressed air to propel the product at 800 km/hr through a tiny hole and under the skin. The doctors who spoke to our team, however, said that this practice is still illegal-- whether you use a needle or not.

Our team spoke to Dermaglow France, a salon that offers this treatment.

"This technique is legal, but doctors don’t like it because they spent 12 years in school to learn how to do [something like] that and, after a day of training, we can do an injection without a needle.”

In fact, if you look online, you’ll find a number of training courses for using the Hyaluron Pen advertised. Most of them last about a day.

This woman is using a Hyaluron Pen.

No questions about a patient’s medical history before the injections

Whatever the law says, these practitioners clearly don’t have the same knowledge and skills as doctors, which is evident in their practices. Our investigation revealed that very few ask clients their age or medical history before doing an injection.

But asking a client about their medical history is extremely important, according to David Modiano, who practices cosmetic medicine in Paris: “For example, if someone has an auto-immune disorder, then we don’t do an injection.”

This screengrab shows a survey carried out by the "Fake Injectors" Instagram account, which shows that very few practitioners ask their clients questions before doing the injection.
 
Botched treatments put clients’ health at risk

With less training, these practitioners are also more likely to botch the treatment.

"If the injected substance migrates towards an artery, it could block it, resulting in necrosis [Editor’s note: dead tissue]. This, in turn, could lead to blindness. There is also risk of infection if, for example, the person’s skin hasn’t been properly disinfected or if the room where the procedure is being carried out hasn’t been properly sanitized,” says Sameh Bougossi, who practices cosmetic medicine in Paris.

There are also lots of risks associated with the Hyaluron Pen.

"Because the Pen uses compressed air to inject the product, it is very traumatic for the skin and the product can easily migrate towards an artery. With a needle, however, you can inject the product slowly,” says Dr Modiano.

This beautician is advertising injections using a Hyaluron Pen.
 
Unknown origins for the products being injected

Dr Bougossi says there is an important procedure to follow when using these products.

"The box containing the product that we inject has two labels on it that indicate the lot number, the expiration date and the quantity. I keep one of those labels and give the other one to the patient.”

Without that label, clients won’t actually know what product was injected in them.

Dr Bougossi thinks that the small lumps that appeared on the lips of Sheyma might be the result of a “poor quality product.”

“I spoke to a blogger whose lips were injected with paraffin oil,” she said.

Dr. Modiano has seen similar cases.

"The other day, I saw a patient with fibrosis [Editor’s note: formation of fibrous tissues, or scarring]. Her lips had been injected with calcium hydroxyapatite, even though this product shouldn’t be used for lips. How do you know if these technicians are using products that meet health and safety standards?”

"The most common complications that people experience after getting injected by an uncertified technician are hard lumps forming on their lips,” reports the "Fake Injectors" Instagram account.

This photo shows the blogger mentioned by Dr Bougossi. She suffered a botched lip injection in a beauty salon. Her Instagram story was shared by the "Fake Injectors" Instagram account.
 
Complaints met with silence

The final major issue is that most of these untrained practitioners are unable to manage potential complications caused by the injections.

"[Doctors], we know how to manage complications. We can recognize clinical signs of a problem,” Dr Modiano said. He says he and his fellow doctors are concerned about how often they see patients who’ve had botched treatments.

According to the "Fake Injectors" Instagram account, most of these practitioners ignore clients who re-contact them about a problem.

According to the medical experts who spoke to our team, these practitioners were likely be charged with a crime if a customer filed a complaint about complications.

The person running the "Fake Injectors" Instagram account started speaking out against these practices, alongside the French Agency for the Safety of Health Products.


Article by Chloé Lauvergnier.