In April 2011, The Only Way Is Essex introduced England to the Botox party. In episode eight of season two, the nation looked on in horror and intrigue as the female cast members gathered round ditzy beautician Amy Childs’ house to have their terracotta foreheads frozen. Between sitting on her L-shaped couch, sipping cheap fizz and arguing about what a moron Mark Wright was, they each took it in turns to head up to Amy’s bedroom for the needle.
Having someone visit your house to administer Botox or fillers while you get on it with your mates is a pretty wild concept. No wonder it’s made headlines over the years. The Daily Mail have reported everything from: “Struck off nurses making thousands by holding illegal Botox parties)” to “Woman whose lips swelled to four times their normal size after having fillers at a Botox party is told she could have died)”, and “Government will launch campaign to reduce botched plastic surgery by urging patients to avoid using home procedures”. But outside the tabloid bubble and semi-common parlance, these Botox and filler parties haven’t been that widely spoken about in the UK. So are they really a trend? Or is just the Daily Mail stirring up controversy?
According to Dr Marc Pacifico, a specialist in plastic surgery who runs a private clinic in Tunbridge Wells, they’ve both been happening on a very small scale for years, and may still be going on, just on the down low. If you want to attend then you need to know someone who knows someone who knows someone. The first rule of Botox party is: don’t talk about Botox party.
“I suspect I’m the last person they’d want to know they’re having a party – where both Botox and filler are being given – because they know my views on it, and that I’ll try and stop it happening,” Pacifico told me.
His views on the matter are that “no good can come of a Botox party”. He’s also in two minds about places like the Mail even reporting on them in the first place. “On the one hand they might be highlighting the risks and concerns over these sorts of events, but on the other, my concern is that their stories might sensationalise them.”
The benefit for people is obvious to Pacifico: they help people save money. A mobile practitioner has zero overheads, and can offer cheap rates, or deals such as the party host getting their treatment done for free if they invite a certain number of friends along. But, he says, the dangers far outweigh the discount.
“If you take the flawed concept of a Botox party,” he explains, “it’s a group environment, there’s prosecco inevitably involved. Not only is alcohol causing poor judgment, but it’s also increasing blood flow and the risk of bleeding and bruising, and vascular complications. And then there’s the added group pressure to take part in something because everyone else is. It’s a recipe for a disaster.”
Save Face director Ashton Collins agrees. "Nobody would attend a flu-jab or vaccination party or ever dream of combining any other sort of medical injection with alcohol, social gatherings and nibbles," she says. "Although they are often administered for cosmetic purposes Botox and dermal fillers are medical interventions that can have serious side effects like any other."
With so much in the media about Botox and lip fillers going wrong, it’s perhaps no surprise that people aren’t admitting to getting a serious medical procedure done in a completely uncontrolled environment. After months of chasing leads, I couldn't get a single Brit who had been to a Botox party on the phone, and it seemed that the ones who had had already been interviewed by a tabloid, and didn't want to repeat the experience.
Over in the States, however, the combination of Botox and booze flows freely and openly. While the state of Nevada recently passed legislation to make Botox parties illegal, stating that injections must only be performed at a medical facility, they are happening across the rest of America.
Gia Gruodyte, a nurse from the Elysium SurgiSpa in Chicago has been hosting Botox and filler parties – at people’s homes, with a one or two drink limit, and follow-up appointments at the clinic – for the past three years, and acknowledges that despite their popularity, they do still have a bad reputation due to product getting into the hands of the wrong people.
“I heard of someone who was learning how to do Botox off YouTube and holding parties at a nail salon for incredibly low prices,” she explains. “When people tell me the price they pay at some of these parties, it’s so low that I wonder if any Botox is even being injected, or if it’s basically glamorised water being injected, and they’re not getting much of an outcome.”
Since Gruodyte charges the same price whether she’s injecting in the clinic, or at someone’s home, she says her parties attract people who’re too busy to go to a doctors’ office for treatment, or who’re just after an “Instagrammable moment”. She also believes such parties have always been popular in America, but just not talked about, until now.
“It’s just become so much more accepted over the past few years that nobody’s hiding the fact they’re getting Botox anymore,” she says. “Mothers are bringing their daughters, men are getting more comfortable with the idea, and it’s become a lot more popular amongst young people as a preventative measure. I have clients as young as 19. No-one’s ashamed of it.”
She chuckles and says: “I saw a quote that said: ‘Years ago you got Botox and nobody talked about it, now you bring up Botox and nobody even raises an eyebrow.’”
Los Angeles-based stylist Armando Ferrera goes to parties hosted by a nurse friend. She says there are zero downsides, only positives such as discounted rates; the fact they fit in around busy work schedules – parties have been known to go on until midnight – and, of course, the social aspect of it all.
“Being a gay man I feel like all of us are a little bit vain,” he explains, “so it’s fun to have a party as opposed to it being so uptight. We all just go there and make fun of each other, like, ‘You’re so old, you need more!’”
Over the past decade of him attending Botox bashes, Armando says the only thing that’s changed is the size of the guest list.
“The groups have gotten bigger and it’s not so much my older friends anymore, it’s people my age and a bit younger than me,” he says. “I posted a photo on Instagram of [me at] a party and I cannot tell you how many friends DM’ed me to be like, ‘Bitch, you should have invited me! I wanna go!’ People who have questions wanna be around their friends [getting it done] and have a more personal, relaxed experience out of a doctors’ setting.”
People are getting more adventurous with where they’ll allow someone to jab them with a needle, too, with ‘Scrotox’ being on the menu at one of Armando’s recent parties.
“Basically, it makes [your balls] look not so wrinkly and makes them plumper… Would I try Scrotox? Maybe that’ll be the theme for my next birthday,” he jokes. “But god no! That is too much for me.”
So, why are these parties such a common occurrence in America that people are going along and whipping their balls out, but us Brits will barely even admit to attending one? Pacifico has a theory. “As a rule, for most aesthetic trends, America is ahead of us,” he explains. “The view in America is that injectable treatments are on the more 'beauty' end of the medical spectrum. Whereas in the UK, particularly because we regularly see the problems and complications caused by filler and Botox injections, currently, we’re [still] viewing it, not as a beauty procedure, but as a medical procedure.”
However, that comes with a caveat. “With the totally unregulated environment in the UK – with respect to fillers – where anyone can purchase and then use a product, there might actually be an increase in these events,” says Pacifico. Expect your invite soon.
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 raises awareness of the dangers of unregulated procedures. Read all our stories here.