When I sat up on the beautician’s couch to look in the mirror, I cried. Not because I now had a Kardashian pout; these were tears of "what the fuck have I just done?". My top lip was swollen, bleeding and four times the size of my bottom one. I cried because I had to get the tube home like that. And I cried at the shame of becoming just another statistic in the ever-growing nightmare of botched lip filler.
It wasn’t the first time I’d had my lips "done". Mine have always been thin and undefined. My friend recommended someone to me – she’d done some of the girls from The Only Way Is Essex – so obviously I went. And I liked it. It looked natural and quietly made me feel better about myself.
Then last year I decided to try a new woman, one recommended by Ronseal-skinned celebs Katie Price and Megan McKenna. “If it’s good enough for them…” I thought as I scrolled through the company’s impressive Instagram pics. I checked the reviews on Facebook. All 5 stars and thousands of them. My appointment rolled around, and I met the woman at a rented therapy room in Wimpole Street. She had lips like a Bratz doll, too big for her face. She then proceeded to inject me with filler so thick I'd later find out it was not even meant for lips. “It’ll go down,” she said after. But I knew it wouldn’t. The next morning my lips were black and blue, my skin stretched so aggressively from the filler – concrete to the touch – that I genuinely thought they might explode.
There was zero aftercare. She told me I could pay to have it dissolved if I wasn’t happy, and when I left a negative Facebook review she replied calling me a liar. I left another one and she blocked me from her company’s page. That’s when I discovered dozens of other women who’d also had their lips butchered.
Jocelyn was one. She’d always craved bigger lips, and visited our tormentor at a hair salon. “I was looking at the hairdressers while I waited,” she remembers. “Some had had their lips done and they looked awful. I was like, ‘Well maybe it wasn’t by her…’ and then I was taken to a shed out the back, and thought, ‘This doesn’t look good at all…’”
But swayed by the amazing before and after pics of what was supposedly this woman’s work, Jocelyn went through with it. “When she pulled out the needle she was still injecting,” she explains. “And that created bubbles at the surface of my skin.”
“She offered to fix them free of charge, so I went back. She pricked my lips with a needle and started squeezing the filler out,” Jocelyn adds. “I was like, ‘What the hell are you doing?! Get off!’ and I left. I’ve now got scarring from the three massive lumps she’s made.”
According to numbers published by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), more than 27,000 Americans had a lip augmentation in 2015. That’s one every 20 minutes. It'll be far, far more now. There are no stats for lip fillers in the UK, however, as we’re one of the few countries who don’t regulate non-surgical procedures – like fillers and Botox – usually reserved for doctors, dentists and nurses. That means anyone can book themselves onto a one-day filler course and start stabbing people in the face from the comfort of their own living room, and it’s completely legal. Alarmingly, there’s no minimum age limit for fillers, either – although some reputable establishments will insist on you being 18 or over without parent permission – meaning a therapist with questionable morals could be injecting teenagers not yet old enough to have sex, drink or smoke.
Those are facts most people considering treatment aren’t even aware of. Like Sophia, who wanted her lips balancing out, since the bottom was bigger than the top. She was duped by the same flashy and seemingly nonsense online marketing as me and Jocelyn.
“Alarm bells should have been ringing when I recognised she was a beauty therapist, not a qualified doctor,” recalls Sophia. “But there’s little guidance for the public who are seeking these treatments, as it’s not illegal for a beautician to administer fillers. I was left with a pouch of filler in my top lip that had been injected too close to the surface of the lip and it hung slightly.” She was forced to get it dissolved.
The man cleaning up the trail of devastation left behind by cowboy injectors is Dr. Tijion Esho, founder of the ESHO Clinic. Working seven days a week, he fixes two to five of these hack jobs a day at his Harley Street and Newcastle clinics.
Like Mother Teresa with a syringe he took pity on me and dissolved my filler for free. It’s something he does often under the ESHO Initiative, a charity programme that offers free repair work to those in need. “I’d get cases into my clinic where I got so upset, I was like, ‘I can’t charge this person,’” he explains.
Dr. Esho believes the mass availability of non-surgical aesthetics is why they’re so popular today. “Before, it was a treatment for the rich, but now it’s available to everybody,” he says. “Especially with payment plans – in the same way people can offset their furniture, they can offset their facial treatments…”
He also puts it down the susceptibility of millennials, who, he says, are obsessed with outside image and what they portray to their friends. “There’s an increased pressure to look a certain way,” he says. “If people stepped back and actually saw what people look like outside of the social platforms they would be much happier with themselves.”
Men aren’t immune to such pressures, either, with Dr. Esho estimating that out of 100 lip procedures, 5-10 of those are on men. “Some guys just feel like they have no lips. We have a mixture of gay and straight men and it tends to be the straight men that don’t let anyone know they’ve had it done.” Henry, who had his botched lips fixed on series one of E4’s Body Fixers – where Dr. Esho is the resident cosmetic surgeon – was certainly open about his lip fillers. “All my friends are strippers and they all have it,” he gushes. “One day I just thought, ‘Fuck it! I’m gonna get it done.’ There’s something so sexy about it!”
Henry admits he got addicted, and was going every 4-6 weeks, spending £250 a time. After several sessions with the same nurse, something went wrong and he developed an abscess. “I couldn’t talk and couldn’t touch it, so I went to the doctors and it literally just exploded, everywhere.”
After 21 weeks of being wrongly-prescribed antibiotics and two unsuccessful operations he visited Dr. Esho. “I was in a bad way,” recalls Henry. “Dr. Esho told me, ‘We need to do this now or you will lose your lip…’” Once the anaesthetic kicked in, Dr. Esho cut into Henry’s lip with scissors – yeah, scissors – drained the pus out and sewed him back up.
“I’m so lucky to look the way I do now ’cause I could have had my top lip cut off,” Henry told me.
That's the thing – what’s meant to be a temporary treatment can be permanently disfiguring when administered (or treated) by someone inexperienced, and instances of this happening have reached epidemic levels, which is why Dr. Esho is campaigning for some serious regulations to be put in place.
In late November he launched a government petition to make it illegal for under 18s to be treated with Botox and dermal fillers, and that month he wrote to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt calling for such treatments to become prescription items that only medics can administer. “I explained that a growing number of botched cases are ending up in A&E or GP practices where they don’t have specialities in treating it,” Dr. Esho explains. “What was once thought to be a public sector problem has now become an NHS problem, which affects the tax payer and therefore the government should be looking at this.”
Dr. Esho’s main concern isn’t for the taxpayer. It’s for the Snapchat and Kylie Kardashian obsessed millennials who’re most likely to be affected by this obscene lack of regulation. The ones being bombarded with online ads from cosmetic companies with a known reputation in the industry for messing up hundreds, even thousands, of faces up and down the country.
“We’re supposed to be educating, protecting and informing this generation,” he surmises. “If we don’t, it becomes another lost generation that we failed to care for.”