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COMMENTARY: Botox and fillers in the age of the ‘selfie-obsessed’ teen

Botox.
Botox. AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

In the era of Instagram, “image” is quite everything for many youth.

With young people sharing their lives online, consciously or subconsciously seeking validation from “likes,” there is a desire for picture perfection in every moment. Those once merely self-obsessed teens have now been replaced by “selfie-obsessed” ones.

Along with the rise of social media and the prevalence of cosmetic procedures online, we have seen a significant increase in the number of young people seeking out Botox, dermal fillers and other cosmetic treatments — from lip plumping, cheek filling to anti-wrinkle antidotes at ages much younger than expected.

According to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, social media has acted as a marketing tool for practitioners who are now able to target the precise patients they want to reach.

READ MORE: Teaching your kid to love their body starts with you

Many injectables brands have also shifted their marketing strategies, targeting younger demographics under the premise of “preventative” beauty care regimens. As a woman in my 40s, I look in the mirror and don’t love all the lines all the time, but I wonder if a lot that self-scrutiny comes from a feeling that “aging gracefully” is no longer viewed as beautiful and wrinkles are evermore seen with scorn — much fueled by celebrity and social media influence.

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If I feel pressured with lowered self-esteem from such imagery, I can only imagine the insecurities of highly impressionable youth, much more swayed by celebrity culture.

But, there is risk associated in the pursuit of vanity — especially for younger people and especially in an unregulated marketplace.

WATCH BELOW: The connection between social media and plastic surgery

The connection between social media and plastic surgery
The connection between social media and plastic surgery

What is legal and what is medically sound may be two different things

Earlier this week, the Minister for Health in Ireland, Simon Harris, announced that he was considering a ban on Botox and fillers for people under the age of 18. He stated that while regulations do exist in Ireland, there should be more, with the government tackling the issue “as a matter of priority.”

One of Ireland’s top plastic surgeons, Dr. Siún Murphy, agrees with the government intervention, noting “a lot of 18-year olds aren’t fully grown yet,” and would like to see it taken a step further, calling for Botox and cosmetic fillers to be banned for young people under the age of 25. According to Dr. Murphy, as young faces are still growing until those years, such procedures should only be carried out in exceptional cases.

Oh Canada, where are the rules?

There is currently no age restriction and very little regulation on the use of injectables treatments in Canada, either.

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“Aesthetic Medicine in Ontario is highly unregulated,” says Dr. Pari Oza, founder and medical director of Pari Aesthetics in Etobicoke. Consumers need to do their own research and confirm they will be treated by licensed professionals who are versed in facial anatomy and the appropriate treatments.

“Patients must remember that aesthetic medicine is still medicine, it is not simply a cosmetic treatment.”

Personally, I would be glad to see some governing intervention or any regulation because there are significant costs — well beyond the financial — associated with such treatments for youth.

READ MORE: Brampton woman in botched Botox fraud case receives jail sentence

Some Canadian clinics, like Face Toronto, self-regulate and will not provide injectables treatments to patients under 18 years old, recognizing the heightened interest from young people and subsequent need for education.

“I have a lot of young patients in my practice. These are males and females in their 20s and early 30s who are seeking out nonsurgical enhancements,” says Dr. Ashlin Alexander, facial plastic surgeon at Face Toronto.

He says he says he has conversations on a daily basis about which treatments will enhance a patient’s face, and which should be avoided.

“We definitely have young patients who come in wanting treatments they saw online, but they themselves are not good candidates. So we have to educate them on what are the best options. And sometimes that advice is “You don’t need any treatment at all,” Dr. Alexander says.

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READ MORE: More men are getting plastic surgery – here’s what they’re getting done (June 2018)

Putting a price tag on beauty

While Kylie Jenner may have gotten lip injections as a teen, the reality is that unless you’re a rich kid or high-rolling reality star like one of the KarJenners, most young people don’t have the type of disposal income to afford such lavish beauty treatments.

As a result, there is a higher chance they will seek out the cheaper options. From bruising, swelling, infection to more severe complications, such as necrosis or blindness from improper administration, the risks for young people seeking more affordable services from inexperienced or unqualified injectors is very real.

“I’m shocked at the number of people who come to see us after getting a treatment elsewhere and they say they were never informed of any risks of treatment,” Dr. Alexander says.

Once you start – how much is enough?

I certainly don’t believe in shaming people who wish to have cosmetic procedures, but I most certainly believe we have to proceed with caution when it comes to our youth.

From my own experience, I know that once you start you may never turn back. I shed my “uni-brow” around 18 years old and I haven’t seen its return since — that was over 20 years ago.

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While a lip plump may look lovely, what happens when the results start to fade three to four months down the road? It could lead to a life-long commitment of regular treatments. The earlier you start, the longer the cycle. I’m not sure if these products were actually ever intended to be used for 40 or more years, which is a very likely reality for early adopters.

Likewise, when I think about my foray into makeup, perhaps I can now afford the $30 mascara instead of the $5 brand, but starting on the cheap with injectables treatments is not a risk worth the reward.

It is dangerous to “normalize” such enhancements for young, impressionable minds because the reality is that they are not accessible and affordable for a vast majority and the alternative of having treatments done “on the cheap” by inexperienced, unprofessional injectors is simply not safe.

I feel it is our responsibility to protect young people until they are at an age where they can make better-informed decisions, but ultimately hold brands, marketers and practitioners to account in the messages they are sending to youth about beauty ideals.

Because the true costs associated with injectables are much more than skin deep.

Meera Estrada is a cultural commentator and co-host of kultur’D! on Global News Radio 640 Toronto.

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