Northern Ireland mum's harrowing warning about dangers of Botox and filler treatments from unlicensed practitioners
Lindsay Collins from Saintfield tells Una Brankin how she paid £210 for two procedures administered in the home of a Belfast woman and ended up in agony and with permanent scarring on her face
Lindsay Collins was looking forward to her birthday beauty treatment. A treat for turning 38, she hoped that a few Botox injections in her forehead and some filler in her lips would help rejuvenate her naturally pretty face.
Instead, the Saintfield sales manager found herself at risk of losing her upper lip - and potential blindness.
Horribly disfigured and bedridden for a week, she was left in severe pain and fighting a necrotising infection after having injections by an unlicensed individual with apparently no recognised qualifications in beauty therapy.
The woman, who works in retail and administers injected treatments from her home on Belfast's Ormeau Road in the evenings, was recommended to Lindsay by a colleague, who had lip fillers in the past.
"I always wanted to have my lips done - everyone else is doing it these days and my friend was pleased with her results," says Lindsay, a mother-of-four. "Some of my family clubbed together to gave me the money for my birthday.
"My mum told me to be careful but as far as I was concerned, it was just a little boost. The woman had a treatment room upstairs in her house and there were a few certificates on the wall, and it was clean enough."
Lindsay paid £210 for a 'special package' of Botox injections and lip filler on September 28 last year. She was not given a medical history and consent form to sign by the woman - standard practice in aesthetic clinics.
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"She put some numbing cream on my lips in the living room and I sat there for 10 or 15 minutes while my friend was having hers done," Lindsay recalls.
"The injection in my bottom lip felt okay but she kept going in further into the top lip and it began to bleed.
"I noticed she used baby wipes to stem the blood. I thought it should have been sterile swabs or something. I left with my forehead Botoxed and lips plumped but my lips had a discoloured tinge and they continued to swell that night."
Nothing could have prepared Lindsay for the sight of her upper lip in the mirror the next morning.
"I had no sleep that night - I never felt pain like it," she says. "It was a real burning sensation, worse than childbirth.
"I had to take painkillers and ibuprofen, but they didn't help much.
"The next morning, it was really scary.
"My top lip was green and blue completely swollen and I was in so much pain. All I could think was 'what have I done?'
"I phoned my friend - her lips were okay. She told me to call the injector right away. I sent her pictures, too. She told me not to worry and offered to come over with her partner and bring some antibiotics.
"She didn't even ask me if I was allergic and there was no mention of a prescription.
"She gave me the medication and told me to give it a week."
As it was her birthday, Lindsay attempted to cover up her swollen lip to go out for meal booked by her mother but felt faint and had to return home.
"The next day I woke up with pus-filled blisters. My husband was really worried, and the kids were distressed.
"My 16-year-old son said he felt sick looking at me.
"At least it was a lesson for my daughter not to do anything like this, but I kept blaming myself for putting them through this. The injector told me to grin and bear it. She didn't tell me to go to hospital - it was her partner who told me to go to A&E on the third day. The roof of my mouth was on fire and I kept bleeding."
At Downpatrick hospital, the doctor attending Lindsay asked her to ring the injector to check what strength of antibiotic she had given her.
"She was taken aback that I was ringing from the hospital," says Lindsay.
"The doctor prescribed a stronger antibiotic and told me to take a week off work. I couldn't afford to lose the week's wages, so I rang the injector and asked her for a refund.
"She offered to come see me, but I was so depressed at that stage, I couldn't leave the bedroom.
"I texted her not to come but she left more medication and the £210 in a bag behind the flowerpots.
"Over the next days there was even more pus and I was in more pain.
"I sent her a message saying I didn't know when I was going to be able to get back to work. She said: 'You've got your diagnosis from the hospital. Don't contact me again'.
"It was a necrotising infection; the flesh in my lip was dying. I wouldn't want anyone else to go through that."
The infection healed eventually but Lindsay was left with white lumps in her lips and red scarring above her upper lip, which requires daily camouflage. The Botox injections, meanwhile, had no effect on her frown lines.
Lindsay says: "I went through three months of hell. It only started clearing at Christmas. Thankfully, I'm able to work from home and I went back to doing it part-time.
"But when I go out, I have to wear a lot of make-up to cover up. I'm very self-conscious of the lumps and scarring; it's like having to cover up permanent cold sores. But at least I didn't lose my lip or go blind, which could have happened if the injector had hit an artery.
"I'm also fortunate that my boss put me in touch with Aine Larkin from the Younique Clinic in Newry, which won a big aesthetics industry award in London recently and she's helping to treat the damage."
A leading specialist in non-surgical cosmetic treatments, former nurse Aine specialises in complication management at her clinic, and was a winner at the 2018 Aesthetic Awards in London for Best Aesthetic Clinic in Ireland.
Aine admits she was horrified when she saw photographs of Lindsay's inflamed lips.
She explains: "The filler had obviously been inserted too deep, most likely vertically, which is a very risky new technique when it comes to avoiding the labial artery. It can't be done by a novice under any circumstances.
"The injector told Lindsay the injection was made up of a mix of fillers, which is unviable - she obviously is unqualified. I would suspect she learned how to inject through YouTube videos.
"Lindsay should have had medical attention immediately and the product dissolved. She should have been given aspirin and antibiotics right away and monitored every few hours.
"The problem could have been resolved relatively quickly. By the time she got to A&E, the damage had been done and busy A&E staff don't have the time or the training to deal with cosmetic complication management."
Last week, Aine injected a dissolving agent to remove the lumps of filler Lindsay had been left with in her upper lip. She is also giving her a course of impulsed light laser treatments and platelet-rich therapy to tackle the discolouration and scarring above her lip.
As a member of the British Association of Cosmetic Nurses in Northern Ireland, Aine has been to Stormont to lobby MLAs on the introduction of regulations in the beauty industry, to prevent unqualified and uninsured therapists and injectors from practicing.
"It is unbelievable that the person who injected Lindsay is still practicing," she says. "I can't stress enough the need for vigilance around non-surgical cosmetic treatments, which are generally unregulated in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
"It is illegal and dangerous for anyone unlicensed to administer Botox and fillers. But as long as the aesthetics industry remains unregulated, Lindsay unfortunately won't be the last to suffer the consequences."
Why it’s important to use accredited therapists
Approximately 1,000 complaints were raised last year over the growing number of unlicensed and unregistered facial aesthetic practitioners.
Younique Clinic in Newry is registered with the recently-formed Government body the Joint Council of Cosmetic Practitioners (JCCP), which has been established to promote safety for those seeking non-surgical aesthetic treatments and hair restoration.
The JCCP register is accredited by the Professional Standards Agency and recognised by the Department of Health and the Care Quality Commission.
The Department of Health has urged members of the public to "exercise caution in respect of any treatment and seek evidence from those carrying out the procedure that they are registered with an appropriate professional body and regulator".
"The Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) regulates clinics providing laser or intense pulsed light cosmetic treatments," it added.
"These providers are required to undergo the appropriate training.
"However, those carrying out treatments such as Botox or dermal fillers are not required (as yet) to register with RQIA."
Botox is regulated as a prescribed medicine and can only be issued by a health professional.
Under the Human Medicines Regulations 2012, the Department of Health can carry out enforcement activity against anyone supplying Botox injections without prescription.