BRITAIN's Botox and filler addiction is fuelling a £2.75billion industry, but many women have been left with left with rotting tissue, needing lip amputations, lumps and even blinded by botched jobs.
We speak to three women who say their quest for the 'perfect' body ruined their lives.
‘I’ll never use fillers again’
Alex Oakley, 25, a cashier, lives in Maidstone, Kent, with her fiancé Will, 25.
“Serving a customer, I tried to hide my hugely swollen lip with my hair. Something had gone very badly wrong with my lip fillers – and I was terrified it was getting worse. I’ve never been confident about my thin lips, and in 2017 I started feeling envious of Instagram influencers with their big pouts.
So in September 2018, I decided to get fillers for £200 with a registered aesthetic nurse. When Will insisted I didn’t need them, I ignored him – I thought they’d give me confidence. Getting the injection hurt, but I liked the results and my friends said they looked great. I wanted to go even bigger though, so I went back to the nurse twice more over the next few months.
The nurse was cautious and refused to inject as much as I wanted in case I ended up with a trout pout – so, in April 2019, when a friend recommended a local beauty therapist who only charged £150, I decided to book an appointment.
She wasn’t medically qualified like the nurse I’d previously seen, but all I cared about was going bigger and she reassured me it would be fine.
She put on more numbing cream than usual, so I barely felt a thing, but the next morning, my lip was throbbing and badly swollen. As Will tried to reassure me, I sent a panicked photo to the beauty therapist, who insisted the swelling would go down. At work, I tried to hide my mouth as much as possible, feeling mortified.
The next day, I called in sick to work as it hurt so much – luckily my boss was supportive – then I phoned the doctor’s surgery, who advised me to go straight to A&E. By the time I arrived, my teeth were aching and I could barely talk. The doctor told me he thought it was an infection, but he wasn’t trained to deal with it, so he was only able to send me home with antibiotics.
Panicked, I messaged the beautician again, telling her I’d been to hospital. She was very abrupt in her response, refusing to answer any of my questions about what to do next. I cursed myself for not going to a medically qualified professional to get fillers – why had I taken such a stupid risk?
Deciding to get a second opinion from someone trained in cosmetic surgery, a few hours later I called a local cosmetic doctor and made an urgent appointment. When she examined me, she said the fillers had caused an abscess that was cutting off the blood flow to my top lip and that the pus could cause my lip to explode. The abscess needed to be burst immediately.
Terrified, I wouldn’t let her touch me, but realising there was no other option, I forced myself to calm down. She inserted a needle into my lip, which was excruciating, and after what felt like ages, the abscess popped and relief flooded through me.
Giving me stronger antibiotics, the doctor explained that the beauty therapist’s lack of training meant that I’d got an infection because she’d not cleaned my lip properly before injecting me. Back home, I struggled to sleep as I had to lie with a bandage in my mouth while my lip drained. But the next morning it looked so much better, and the day after that it had gone down completely.
I angrily messaged the beautician to let her know what had happened, but she blocked me on all social media. While the doctor encouraged me to go to the police about it, I just wanted to forget it all. Luckily I don’t have a scar, but my self-confidence is in tatters. While my friends still get lip fillers, I’d never go near them again. I also regret the money I wasted – over £700. I’d tell other girls not to do it – but if you do, go to someone who’s properly trained. I just wish people realised the damage that lip fillers can cause.”
‘My boob job made me so ill, I thought I was dying’
Laura Mechem, 29, an administrator, is single and lives in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, with daughter Scarlett, three.
“As I bent down to pick up my daughter, I felt so dizzy I had to put her down. I’d been suffering from exhaustion, dizzy spells and a host of other symptoms for years, but the doctor couldn’t work out what was wrong – and I was worried I might be dying.
I didn’t realise it then, but it had all started after a boob job I’d had seven years earlier, in December 2012. After going on a health kick in 2011, I’d lost 1 1/2st, going from a size 14 to a 10. But I’d been left with saggy breasts, shrinking from a 34DD to a small C. After researching boob jobs, I spent £5,000 on the op, putting it on my credit card.
I loved my new round boobs, and they gave me a lot of confidence. Two months after the procedure, I resumed weight-training. I was feeling constantly tired and often dizzy, but put it down to my intensive exercising. When I became pregnant in May 2015, I was still constantly fatigued, but had also become plagued with other symptoms.
I’d wake up feeling hungover, despite not drinking, my hair fell out, I had mood swings and I’d also vomit if I ate gluten or dairy – but I thought these were pregnancy side effects.
After Scarlett was born in February 2016, I felt worse. It was a struggle to do housework or wash my hair, and all I wanted to do was sleep. My GP tested my iron levels and thyroid, but they were fine. I resigned myself to having to live with it, but it was really frustrating.
By June 2019, I’d split with my ex, and I was so weak that it was becoming even harder to look after Scarlett. Taking her to the park →was out of the question, and after going to the supermarket, I’d end up sleeping for hours. It left me terrified that I wasn’t being a good enough mum.
One day I was on Instagram when I noticed a post from a weightlifting friend claiming that her breast implants had made her ill, with a link to a Facebook group with thousands of members. Curious, I clicked on it and was shocked when I saw a list of 40 different autoimmune symptoms – many of which I had.
I read hundreds of posts from women who claimed that having a foreign body – a breast implant – inside them was making their bodies mistakenly attack healthy cells in a bid to keep them well. While UK doctors don’t yet recognise breast implant illness, research is currently being carried out in the USA and Australia.
Worried, I went back to a surgeon where I’d had the boob job, who admitted there had been stories of women experiencing the same thing, but said as it wasn’t proven, it was up to me if I wanted to get my implants removed.
I knew I had to have them out, so I paid £3,500 for the removal in December 2019. Going into theatre, I was terrified that I might not wake up and Scarlett would be left without a mother. Luckily, the op went well, and after three weeks’ rest at Mum’s house, I returned home.
Now, I’m pleased with my new, smaller boobs, which are a perky B cup. My energy levels quickly shot back up, I’ve stopped sleeping as much, and I’m able to cope with day-to-day activities again. I can now pick up Scarlett again and give her a bath. My hair has stopped falling out, I’m eating dairy and gluten without feeling sick, and I’ve stopped feeling hungover every day.
If I could speak to my younger self, I would say: ‘Don’t do it. You’re putting a foreign object inside your body, and it just isn’t natural’. Despite there being no proven link between breast implants and autoimmune illnesses – so far – I have no doubt that it was my implants that made me sick. It ruled my life for years, but at last I can give Scarlett a hug again.”
‘My tummy tuck almost killed me’
Naomi Lambert, 38, runs a charity and lives in Perth, Australia, with mechanic husband Matt, 35.
“As I walked down the aisle, I could tell my fiancé Matt was crying. Just a few months earlier, my life had hung in the balance after a botched tummy tuck.Growing up in the UK, I was never body conscious. My family moved to Perth when I was 15 and we’d spend every weekend at the beach. But in April 2006, my confidence was shattered forever. I was rushed to hospital with a stomach ulcer and doctors had to remove part of my stomach.
While recovering, I went into septic shock, and was so unwell that I had to stay in hospital for three months. When I came home, I was left with red, mottled scarring that went from my boobs down to where my belly button had been. I hated the scars and the fact I didn’t have a belly button so much that I stopped looking at myself in mirrors.
When I met Matt on a night out at a bar in Adelaide in April 2009, we clicked instantly. I felt nervous as I told him about my scarring, but he reassured me I was beautiful. We got engaged soon after in September 2009, with the wedding planned for November 2010.
As I began to plan the big day, I decided that I wanted to sort out the scarring in time for the wedding. I mentioned to Matt that a friend had recommended a plastic surgeon who she’d heard had a good reputation and he was supportive, so I went for a consultation in March 2010.
The surgeon recommended a tummy tuck to pull my abs back together and give me a new belly button, quoting £5,000. I trusted him, so I went in for surgery on March 30, 2010.
When I woke up, I knew something was very wrong – I was in crippling pain. The surgeon wasn’t at Mount Hospital in Perth to discharge me, so he did it over the phone after two days, telling me pain was normal and I didn’t need medication.
Drifting in and out of consciousness at home, I couldn’t get out of bed or eat, so after three days Matt took me to A&E – I later found out I’d have died if he hadn’t. I was taken into theatre, where it was discovered the surgeon had put a hole through my bowel and it was leaking.
The next three months were a total blur. I was in and out of surgery as the trauma team struggled to keep infection at bay. Matt told me afterwards he was terrified I’d die. But slowly, with antibiotics, I began to get better, and returned home in July 2010. I was left with a teardrop-shaped scar, and though I still didn’t have a belly button, I didn’t mind. Almost dying put it all into perspective, which was very liberating.
As I’d been too ill to plan my wedding, my mum Sue, 67, and sister Rachel, 37, took over for me. When I finally married Matt at a winery in Adelaide on November 6, I was just happy to be alive and well.
I took the surgeon to court in 2013, and won a medical negligence case against him in June 2014. Unbelievably, he wasn’t struck off. I wish I’d done more research before I got my tummy tuck and that’s what I’d advise anyone to do. I went with the first surgeon I spoke to, but you should explore your options – and understand the risks.”