The practice was banned for anybody under the age of 18 in England in 2021 - but Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland still have no age limit for those wishing to get fillers and Botox - despite a concerning lack of regulations and potential life-changing side effects.
Teenagers from England are travelling across the border to Wales and Scotland to get Botox, fillers and other injectables, campaigners say, taking advantage of a difference in legislation.
While cosmetic Botox and lip fillers were banned in England for under-18s in 2021, no such law exists in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland - and there is no age limit whatsoever in place.
The 2021 ban came after the UK’s Department For Health estimated that some 41,000 Botox procedures may have been carried out on under-18s in 2020 - and more than 29,300 dermal filler procedures may have been performed on the same age group between 2016 and 2020.
Now, Save Face, which runs a government-approved register of accredited practitioners who carry out non-surgical cosmetic treatments like dermal fillers and anti-wrinkle injections, say they have received reports of under-18s making the journey to Wales or Scotland to get around the law.
Save Face has warned that Botox and fillers could have very serious side effects - particularly when given to young people who have not finished developing.
There are fears that, in extreme cases, the practice could cause permanent tissue death and even blindness.
Dr. Anjali Mahto, a consultation dermatologist in London’s Harley Street, tells Euronews that injectables at such a young age pose countless risks.
“By young, I mean below the age of 25”, she says, “Treating the skin this young can lead to several complications. This can include very unnatural facial expressions, asymmetry and, in extreme cases and in the wrong hands, permanent damage to your facial features”.
Experts say that as Botox temporarily paralyses targeted facial muscles, it reduces their ability to contract and while this can prevent the formation of dynamic wrinkles in teenagers, it might alter the natural movement of these muscles over time.
Ashton Collins, the director and co-founder of Save Face says, though, that the reports she’s received are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the sheer scale of injections performed on under-18s.
“I think the issue that we have is that we are only seeing a small percentage of what's actually going on because people and parents generally only really approach us when something goes wrong,” Collins told Euronews.
Girls as young as 15 have come to Save Face, often as a last resort, when the overstretched NHS and licensed practitioners are unable to help treat the damage done by ‘unscrupulous’ people with limited expertise as they don’t keep any medical records.
These practitioners are everywhere and are entirely unregulated and rarely have insurance, Collins explains. Some of them have as little as half a day's training and buy imitation Botox from China to circumvent having to engage with healthcare professionals to prescribe to their patients.
Save Face says that in one case they saw a young person who had been injected with beef gelatine.
The Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish devolved governments have said they are aware of the regulatory gap with England and will strive to do further work to improve regulations - but have yet to even debate bringing a law into place.
Teachers in senior schools are increasingly reporting peer pressure being a significant issue when it comes to Botox and, in particular, lip fillers.
“We've been contacted by schools who say that one girl has come back from half-term holidays with lip filler and it's not long before everybody in that friendship group has copied that,” Collins says, adding, “I do feel terribly sorry for young people now because the pressure seems to be insurmountable to look a certain way”.
The desire for ‘youthfulness’ across Europe
An obsession with looking young - even when a person is still legally a child - is unsurprisingly not isolated to the UK.
VIP Italia, an Italy-based aesthetic device manufacturer, analysed Google search data to find out which European cities are the most obsessed with anti-ageing treatments - including Botox and dermal fillers.
They discovered that residents of Amsterdam make the most searches for youth-preserving procedures, with around 1,532 searches made per month per 100,000 residents.
Dublin and Prague follow - with 1,191 and 969 per 100,000 respectively - and Milan and Stockholm round off the top five.
Those figures apply to all ages but Ashton Collins explains it’s a slightly brighter picture on the continent.
“In most areas of the rest of Europe, these treatments are much more tightly regulated than they are in the UK,” she says.