I’ve been on Facebook Marketplace for less than five minutes and already I’ve been offered the entire world: a £475,000 two-bed flat in a converted church, someone selling ‘lamps’ comprising of fairy lights rammed inside empty vodka bottles, and the regular stuff like sofa beds or shelving units.
There’s nothing you can’t buy on Marketplace, and that now includes non-surgical cosmetic procedures like lip fillers. At the time of writing, searching for “lip filler” and “dermal lip filler” on the platform brings up over 50 offers from the Greater London area alone. Some offer combination deals on teeth-whitening along with fillers, while others are plainly labelled as "offers". One post is simply labelled "Lips".
Others are selling dermal filler supplies like hyaluronic acid for as little as £20 – with no explanation as to which cosmetic procedure it is best used for or a warning that it should only be administered by professionals.
Unlike Harley Street clinics in London that boast of their medical qualifications, few Marketplace sellers offered any information on their qualifications beyond referring to themselves as “beauticians”.
It’s even harder to distinguish between lip filler providers thanks to a huge reliance on stock imagery, with some providers using similar pictures with their name or offers written across, littered with syringe emojis.
To see if Facebook Marketplace sellers were adhering to any safety practices – if any – I posed as a potential client and messaged 20 users in London offering lip fillers.
I explained to them on Facebook Messenger that I was new to fillers and was interested in having 2ml of dermal filler in my lips – four times the recommended starting dose.
Eighty percent of those I spoke to were fine with administering the amount in one go. Fifteen percent said I could have a maximum of 1ml – twice the recommended dose – at my initial appointment, and then return in two weeks for the following 1 ml.
Only one seller responded saying that they would never administer 2ml for a first time client. “It’s not safe,” they told me.
One advised that she would take a look at my lips when I came in for an appointment, but that the amount that would be injected was “up to me and my budget”.
Four people did ask for a photograph of my lips to determine whether or not 2ml could in fact work for me. One decided that 2ml would be “perfect” after seeing a picture – none of them said no.
I called Ashton Collins, the director of Save Face, a national register of accredited practitioners who provide non-surgical cosmetic treatments, to ask how these interactions should have gone.
“Any patient seeking to make an appointment for 2ml of lip filler should be refused,” she tells me. “Consultation is crucial to any cosmetic procedure. Practitioners should assess whether the patient is in fact suitable for treatment and if so how much filler would help them achieve their desired outcome over a realistic timeframe.”
Professor Ash Mosahebi from the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons agrees. "Besides the fact it looks unnatural, the complications of infections, forming lumps and lips becoming deformed increases the more filler goes in the first time," he told VICE.
Collins goes on to explain that there should also be clear warnings given to the prospective patient so they “understand what the treatment is, how it works and most importantly what side effects or complications could occur."
She explains: "It is extremely important that patients are informed how the practitioner will manage the complications should they occur."
None of the 20 sellers I contacted offered this information – nor did they suggest that it would be shared with me on arrival – before they invited me to book an appointment only days in the future.
Although I didn’t go through with any of the bookings, it’s worrying that it is so easy to access these fillers by way of sellers operating under unsafe practices.
Unfortunately, Collins isn’t surprised by any of my findings. “It’s worrying that it’s so common,” she says. Out of the 934 patient complaints Save Face received last year, 62 percent came from those who had found their practitioner on social media.
Listings for lip fillers on Facebook Marketplace were priced at a massively discounted cost compared to their usual retail value. I received quotes ranging £160 to £300 for 2ml, which Collins says that is incredibly low. “Most accredited practitioners will charge around £300 for 1ml,” she explains.
Sixty-four percent of the patients who sought help from Save Face after botched procedures said they were most attracted to these cheap deals. Collins goes on to say that people are often taken in by the brand names people create for themselves on social media.
“People are taken in by names that seem professional,” she says. “They will have ‘Aesthetics’ in their names, so people assume it’s fine but it’s not.” There’s often no address listed with Facebook Marketplace listings, so it’s impossible to know whether they work at real establishments or their own living rooms. A VICE investigation found lip filler providers operating out of a variety of questionable locations, including private houses, leisure centres and even gyms.
Currently, there are no regulations in place in the UK stipulating who can administer filler – technically, anyone can style themselves as a provider and begin injecting people’s faces. Save Face also reports that 83 percent of unregistered practitioners are actually beauticians or hairdressers. Collins adds that there are laypeople also look to supplement their income by administering filler on the side.
While Facebook guidelines state that offering “medical, cosmetic or personal wellness services including hair styling or spa services” is prohibited on the site, many listings have found their way around it using terms like ‘lip enhancement’.
Botched lip fillers can have potentially life-altering effects, including blindness and tissue necrosis (when cells in the lips begin to die). But if you want to roll the dice on some cheap fillers, Facebook Marketplace is one place you’d go.
A representative for Facebook told VICE that they were unable to offer a comment at this time, but were investigating the matter. We will update this piece accordingly with their statement.
People all over the UK undergo non-surgical treatments like fillers every year, but the industry operates almost completely unchecked. Fill Me In is a VICE UK editorial series in collaboration with Save Face, the national register of accredited aesthetic professionals, that aims to raise awareness of the dangers of unregulated procedures. Read all the stories from the series here.