When Male Cosmetic Treatments Go Horribly Wrong

An increasing number of men are opting for fillers, Botox and hair transplants. But what happens when these tweakments get botched?
A white mans floating collaged head getting surgery with metal scissorts and scalpal circling.
Collage: Hunter French

In 2018, Luke Christian was 24 and looking to change his face. “I was after a sleek, sharp jawline,” he tells VICE. “After seeing so many male influencers on Instagram, I fell into the trap of constantly comparing myself to others, and wondering how I could achieve that chiselled look quickly.” 


After a hasty search for clinics, he booked in for jaw filler. “They applied the filler while I was laid flat on my back,” he says. He suspected something was wrong immediately. “On one side the jaw looked sharp and sleek, the look I was after,” he says. But, on the other side, the filler had been applied under his jaw bone. “[It] appeared saggy,” says Christian. He was told this was normal and that it was just swelling, which would go down in a couple of days. But the situation remained months later. “One side looked great, but the other side still looked saggy and inflated. It was the complete opposite of what I wanted and looked worse than pre-filler.”

Christian felt more conscious of his jawline than ever. But, having been told the filler would last between nine and 12 months, he simply waited for it to return to normal. Two years passed and the swollen side of his jaw didn’t go down. The filler had become hard and solid, “as though there was a big lump,” he says.

In desperation, Christian consulted countless doctors, aesthetic clinics and skin specialists. “The general consensus was that it couldn’t possibly be filler, as it dissolves naturally in the body,” he says. He felt let down – “I kept being told so many different things,” he says. 


It took five years for Christian to find someone who could help: A medically-trained aesthetician who specialised in fillers. “She was my last resort,” he says. “She said she would apply Hyalase [a filler dissolver] to the saggy, lump area. If it went, then it was filler all along, but if not she said we could work around it…. She applied it, and within two minutes the lump and sagginess had gone.”

Christian was unlucky. But his quest for a chiselled jaw and a more Instagrammable face is certainly not uncommon. Men feel "just as much pressure as women" to have cosmetic procedures in order to look good, according to Save Face, the national register for medical aesthetic treatments. Cosmetic treatments are becoming more popular across the board; we’re living in the age of filler. Twenty-somethings are getting “baby botox”, people are taking filtered selfies to surgeons, and guys are spending their life savings on all-inclusive trips to Turkey in search of hair plugs and new teeth.

A man with botched fillers before and after filler dissolver

Luke Christian pre and post-filler dissolver. Photo: courtesy of Luke Christian

A 2019 BBC survey suggested nearly 50 percent of men between 18-30 "might consider" having a procedure, and the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons reported a 118 percent rise in male cosmetic procedures from 2021 to 2022. 


“I have certainly seen a rise in male uptake of surgeries such as face lifts, blepharoplasty [the removal of excess skin from eyelids] and neck lifts,” says plastic surgeon Dr Paul Banwell. He puts down to a number of reasons: “More awareness that such procedures exist, high profile public figures talking openly about having surgery themselves, and a breakdown of the stigma that used to surround surgeries.”

Unsurprisingly, given his professional interests, Banwell doesn’t see it as a bad thing. “We’re lifting the taboo around ‘tweakments’ for men,” he says. “I don’t think it means men are worrying more about their wrinkles… Men want to use the treatments to boost their confidence too.”

However, as Christian’s story suggests, it’s not just a lifting of stigma. Men are increasingly dissatisfied with their natural looks, and this feeling is often fuelled by the filtered reality of social media. Christian’s story is also just one of many examples of cosmetic procedures going terribly wrong.

“Initially after my hair transplant in Turkey, I thought it looked alright,” says Tom, who is only providing his first name for privacy reasons. “Then by about the six month mark it started falling out in patches. I found myself looking worse than I did before the surgery.” He adds: “It didn’t even cross my mind that it could go wrong.”


On the morning of the surgery Tom had been taken into a consultation room for a brief chat with the surgeon. “I was made aware that he would be doing the procedure himself,” he says. “However, once it started he left his assistants to it and just floated between each surgery room during the day.” It didn’t take long for Tom to realise his transplant was botched. “After it started falling out, I was more self-conscious than ever.” 

Part of his anguish stemmed from the fact he’d picked a relatively cheap surgery in Turkey – much cheaper than transplant clinics in the UK. Now, he couldn’t afford another transplant to put it right. “I just thought my only option would be to put my story out there to warn people about dodgy cut price surgeries,” he says. “I wrote to a newspaper to warn other people about getting this done in Turkey, and thankfully Dr Vara reached out to me and offered to fix it.”

Dr Roshan Vara is a hair transplant surgeon and co-founder of The Treatment Rooms London Hair Transplant Clinic. He often sees patients who have had bad transplants. Most of the time, like Tom, these patients had no idea the procedure could go wrong. “Complications can happen in hair transplant surgery,” Vara says. “These might include things such as poor hair growth after a transplant, over-harvesting of hair from the back of the head – leading to a see-through effect where you can see patches of scalp at the back – skin and hair infection after the transplant, poor healing of the skin, and skin necrosis.” All of which sound way worse than a bit of thinning up top…


Vara stresses how important licensing and regulation are, “to ensure clinics are held accountable for their patients”. Even regulated clinics can get things wrong. “Not so long ago, a hair transplant clinic in the UK was shut down for concerns around the sterility of their operations,” Vara says. “Patients had been contacted to seek urgent medical review for cross-contamination.” The laws around regulation meant the problem was dealt with swiftly though, before anyone else could be harmed. “If this clinic was unregulated,” Vara says, “their unsafe practice would still be available to patients today.”

There are a number of ways doctors like Vara can help a patient whose hair transplant has gone wrong, but they all require going under the knife again. “In some cases, we may need to remove previously implanted hair as it has been so poorly inserted into the scalp,” he says. “This can be laborious and requires repeated surgery to completely repair.”

Joshua Van der Aa found himself on a similar surgery cycle, after getting a nose job a decade ago. “I was a medical student in my early twenties,” he says. “Life was very busy but seriously good. However, a major and persistent niggle, as it had been for a long time, was my nose.” His nose was curved, and his profile bothered him. “It’s not something you can ignore when it’s literally central to your appearance,” he tells VICE. So, he decided to change it.


“The first time I had surgery, it was done by the father of a fellow medical student,” Van der Aa says. “He was an ENT surgeon. But, unfortunately, both the aesthetic and functional outcomes of the operation were really quite poor.” Instead of a full rhinoplasty, the surgeon “just shaved the bridge down a bit,” he says. The problem was, he didn’t do it at the right angle. “Afterwards, instead of looking curved, it now looked like a hook... It basically looked a lot more aggressive, and a lot more prominent in my face.”

Van der Aa went back to his friend’s father and said the result wasn’t what he had in mind. Like Luke though, he was told the bump was just swelling and that it would go down. “But it didn’t,” he says. “It remained exactly the same.” Although others didn’t react to his new nose too much, he was crippled with self-consciousness. “I always felt they were just too polite and didn’t want to bring it up,” he explains. “I knew as soon as I was allowed to, I would get it redone.”

Six months after his first nose job, he went to another surgeon. But he still wasn’t totally happy. “You could tell it had been a bit of a rushed job, because there were irregularities and minor asymmetries.” So he got another rhinoplasty – a liquid one this time, patching up those “irregularities” with filler. It all seems like quite a drawn-out and emotionally distressing process, for a “niggle” about his curved nose.

Rather ironically, given his personal experience with aesthetic procedures, Van der Aa is now a cosmetic doctor with his own Harley Street clinic. So, he clearly hasn’t been turned off cosmetic procedures. Though, he is now highly aware of where he went wrong a decade ago. “I did zero research,” he admits. “I didn’t ask for photos, I didn’t search for any reviews or anything like that. I was obviously young and clueless at the time; I thought it was straightforward and everyone who was doing this knew what they were doing and were getting good outcomes.”

He stresses: “It’s essential to do your homework before any treatments are given. Take your time to research and get the basics right: The practitioner should be medically qualified, they should be registered with the relevant regulatory bodies, for example the GMC.” He adds: “They should have patient images showing consistent and natural results, [and] they should come widely recommended, so look for a decent number of credible, verified, good reviews.”

But Van der Aa also knows that there are no absolute guarantees: “Poor results can and do happen”. The desire for a sharp jaw can lead to a five year filler nightmare; longing for a full head of hair can lead to skin necrosis. In the end fellas, I suppose the most important question to ask yourself is: Is it worth it?