Vancouver cosmetic surgeon warns ‘liquid facelifts’ can cause blindness

WATCH: One of the B.C. doctors who discovered Botox is warning about potentially life-altering side effects of another type of cosmetic procedure. Elaine Yong reports.

One of the Vancouver doctors who first discovered Botox treatments says a common cosmetic procedure known as a “liquid facelift” has left a number of patients blind.

Injectable dermal fillers have become hugely popular, with no down time and natural looking results.

“It’s an enormous part of my practice,” said Dr. Jean Carruthers, who pioneered the use of Botox. “Probably over half of my practice–all day, every day.”

The process looks pretty simple: a series of small injections, mostly hyaluronic acid, plumps up the skin, smoothing out wrinkles and contours.

But the anatomy in the face is extremely complicated, says Carruthers.

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In a study presented at the World Congress of Dermatology last week, Carruthers found 98 published cases of patients left blind, the catastrophic side effect from mistakenly injecting into a blood vessel.

“When you push the plunger in, what you do is reverse the flow in that artery so that some of that product you are injecting can actually go into the brain and cause a stroke,” she said. “When you release pressure on the plunger, the product can go forward now and into the ophthalmic artery, and into the retinal artery.”

There has been a sharp increase over the past few years as the use of facial fillers has grown. Many of the serious complications have occurred in Asia, with only one documented case of blindness in Canada.

But Dr. Carruthers believes there are many cases we never hear about.

“When you think at the present time five-and-half million injections of fillers are happening worldwide annually, this is a tremendous concern simply because it’s becoming more popular.”

The most important thing is to find an experienced doctor with the proper training, so—as is the case with the vast majority of patients—there aren’t any complications, just the potential for a fresher, younger face.

-with files from Elaine Yong