When Crissy first got lip fillers aged 18, she kept it a secret from everyone apart from her best friend, her brother and her mum. She was excited to look like the influencers she followed on social media, but couldn’t quite shake the feeling that people might judge her if they found out.
“The process itself went smoothly,” she remembers, “and after a few days of recovery, my lips looked amazing. I couldn’t believe that I was able to get rid of years-worth of insecurities in just 20 minutes.”
A year later, Crissy’s filler started to fade – a natural process in the procedure. But she was terrified at the idea of having her natural lips back, so promptly booked herself in for a top-up session with her aesthetician. This time, though, she could tell things had gone horribly wrong.
The swelling in her lips felt different from the initial session. The filler had migrated and caused huge bubbles to collect underneath her top lip – a complication which can take place when practitioners cut corners or administer filler incorrectly.
Although her aesthetician assured Crissy the bubbles simply needed to be massaged out and would disappear in time, they didn’t. With no proper guidance about what her next steps should be and growing anxiety around feeling like her lips weren’t “real”, there was only one thing left to do: ditch the filler for good.
A few appointments with a new practitioner and hundreds of pounds later, she was finally able to get her filler dissolved properly. Now 22 and filler free, Crissy maintains that letting her lips go back to their natural form is the best decision she’s ever made.
“I still love big lips, but not at the expense of my health or financial situation,” she says. “Whenever I want fuller lips, I use makeup – there’s nothing wrong with cosmetics, but it needs to be done safely. When I first went back to the clinic for help, I didn’t feel heard or understood. Looking back, I really regret not speaking up for myself.”
Crissy isn’t alone in having suffered dodgy filler injections. In fact, her experience is reflective of a wider trend for getting them dissolved which has been fuelled, and arguably exacerbated, by prolonged lockdowns and a general lack of access to professional aesthetics practitioners. This can allow so-called bad filler to end up in places it isn’t supposed to, causing a duck lip effect where the lips protrude forward. This tends to happen when injectors don’t consider the face’s natural ratios.
Although non-surgical treatments such as botox and fillers continue to generate hefty revenue in the UK (they were worth around £2.75bn a year as of last January), many women have had agonising, traumatic experiences, putting them off filler altogether.
But here’s the catch: in the UK, you do not need to hold a medical license in order to inject filler into someone’s face. High demand and high profit, as it turns out, can often take precedence over ethical practice.
21-year-old Molly-Mae Hague, one of Love Island’s most successful exports, sent the Internet into a frenzy last October after sharing a YouTube video detailing her decision to reverse the treatments she’d had.
“Over the last few months I’ve really noticed how unnatural my lips look,” she shared. “After years of going to different people I ended up with botched lips. I’ve made so many mistakes when it comes to […] my face and I want to tone things down.”
Molly-Mae joins a growing list of celebrities who have come forward to speak on the drawbacks of getting filler, and their experience with getting it removed.
Kylie Jenner, who has been a well-known filler fan since 2015 and is perhaps one of the trend’s main propagators, infamously did so via Instagram in 2018, and American makeup mogul Huda Kattan penned an earnest blog post in 2019, where she revealed that losing the filler was a way to achieve a “softer, more natural look”. For myriad reasons, women seem to be moving away from the age of the Instagram Face.
Alice Henshaw, an aesthetic nurse practitioner and founder of Harley Street Injectables in London, has noticed a spike in women coming in to get their filler dissolved, though she suggests this shouldn’t be necessary if treatments are carried out properly in the first place.
“To be honest, you shouldn’t actually be able to notice when someone has had their lips done,” she explains. “There are a lot of overdone lips and faces out there, and I definitely think people are moving towards a more natural look. This doesn’t mean having no filler – it means getting it done tastefully. I’d put money on all these celebs redoing their filler after getting it dissolved, just in a more natural way.”
Since lockdown has forced people to reckon with their God-given features, more time has been spent reflecting on the necessity of these procedures. Trends are cyclical, and filler is no different. But, in case you’re worried, rest assured. Most of the time skin, will go back to its natural state once the filler has been removed:
“Your face will only be compromised if there was an infection, or if a client has been using fillers for years and in very large amounts, as the skin naturally ages and stretches,” Henshaw continues. Good quality filler is usually made up of cross-linked hyaluronic acid, which lasts anywhere from six to 18 months and can cost between £200 and £800.
Dr. Nyla, founder and medical director of Medispa Cheshire, has personally performed over 65,000 dermal filler injections. She suggests that the uptick in women getting their filler dissolved has less to do with celebrity, and more to do with the dark underbelly of an unregulated cosmetics industry and, as a result, growing fear about risks if their injector isn’t properly qualified.
“I believe that when people go public about the dangers and what has happened to them, that influences young people a lot more,” she tells THE FACE. “We’re talking about administering a foreign body into someone’s face here. Forget about Molly-Mae – this trend has to do with the darker side of the sector. People are more afraid and more cautious given the lack of regulation in the non-surgical cosmetics industry.”
While botched filler injections constitute a significant motivation for lots of women to chill on the filler, the pandemic has also contributed to a rise in natural beauty, as quick-fix solutions are being replaced with “more measured, long-term beauty rituals,” according to a 2021 microtrend report compiled by The Future Laboratory, a strategic foresight consultancy firm based in London.
The report points out that “beauty routines are increasingly adapting to reflect increased periods of time spent at home. Consumers are shifting their focus from cosmetic fads to more natural enhancements that reinvent everyday looks. [They] are looking to lean into slower beauty trends and embrace their natural skin texture.”
So will trends for non-surgical beauty treatments disappear in the same amount of time it takes for filler to dissolve? Unlikely. But in the meantime, Covid-19, the quest for natural beauty and botched procedures have led the industry into the eye of a storm that can only be weathered by introducing proper regulation and training.