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The Truth About Backroom Silicone Butt Injections

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While recent media reports point to a shift in butt aesthetics toward a smaller, more natural look, news reports on butt procedures say otherwise. A recent Rolling Stone exposé detailed the story of a mother-daughter team in California who committed a series of sometimes-lethal underground botched butt injections. There’s also the story of the unlicensed beauty consultant in Houston who was recently charged for the death of her client after a butt injections treatment gone terribly wrong.

With all the information about the dangers of silicone injections available, one would think that the days of the Cardi B. style basement butt enhancements were over, but surgeons say there are still people willing to take the risk. “I have too many stories to tell about devastated women coming to the hospital emergently with completely disfigured buttocks and festering wounds that are impossible to correct,” says Nashville plastic surgeon Daniel Hatef, MD. “Poorly done buttock injections can cost you your life, your ability to sit, your ability to walk. It is very serious.” 

The Type of Silicone Used

The promise of a cheap, quick fix may be tempting, but many of these victims don’t know what they’re having put in their bodies, or more importantly how their bodies are going to react. “Silicone is a rubber-like polymer that has a similar chemical structure to many substances we see in life, with one difference: instead of a carbon backbone, the backbone is silicon,” explains Dr. Hatef. “It is made in labs around the world for medical and industrial uses.”

“In 1992 the FDA rescinded approval of cosmetic silicone injections,” notes Vero Beach, FL plastic surgeon Alan J. Durkin, MD. “Liquid silicone was taken off the market because if it spilled, it would cause an inflammatory response.”

Medical vs. Industrial Grade Silicone

The difference between medical-grade silicone and industrial-grade silicone comes down to purity level, explains La Jolla, CA plastic surgeon Joseph Grzeskiewicz, MD. “Medical-grade silicone oil is extremely highly purified such that other particles or contaminants are removed, whereas industrial-grade silicone—which is used for lubricants and other things— does not have the same requirements for purity.” Dr. Grzeskiewicz says using something less pure in the body can cause serious complications like infections, wound problems, deformities, loss of tissue, or even death. In many of these lethal cases, the silicone used is found to be industrial-grade silicone oil.

“Even if you’re injecting a medical-grade silicone at any volume greater than .1 cc per millimeter tissue, on some level, you’re going to get an inflammatory response,” Dr. Durkin notes. “That inflammatory response, if it decides not to turn off, will never turn off. This can include giant body reactions like disfigurement, hardness, migration, granulomas, tissue breakdown and more.”

The Deadly Risks of Injecting in the Butt

The other issue with backroom butt enhancements is the risks associated with improper anatomical placement by untrained injectors.Most often complications occur because the provider is not medically trained and is just a person that is doing it out of their home or a hotel room,” says Houston plastic surgeon German Newall, MD. “The placement of the injections is critical because if any type of injection hits a vessel, then the material can travel through the bloodstream to the heart, brain, or lungs and cause silicone pulmonary embolism which is fatal. Aesthetically speaking, the injections can be misplaced leaving behind hard, unsightly lumps across the area that are oftentimes impossible to correct.”

“In my opinion, there is no role for liquid silicone on any level to be injected into a biologic system with the exception of its use in cataract surgery,” Dr. Durkin stresses. “However, in cataract surgery it falls out because it’s exposed to the environment. It’s not internalized, it’s external. When it’s internal it keeps migrating. While it’s not illegal in the United States, it’s illegal and a felony in Nevada to inject liquid silicone. You go to jail.”

Can Irregularities and Deformities be Fixed?

Because of the complexity of the issue, Dr. Newall refers patients with silicone butt injections to reconstructive plastic surgeons who typically deal with these types of cases. “I have met a few people over the course of my career who have undergone injections with silicone into the buttocks and breasts, usually performed in countries other than the USA, and they have all had numerous very firm, solid masses in their tissues which were very uncomfortable, and in some cases visually deforming.”

As many of the surgeons interviewed for this story noted, surgical correction is extremely difficult, and many patients do not elect to go through with surgery. “It’s almost impossible to reverse or fix. Treatment can include surgical removal of the masses, direct reconstruction, or fat grafting in order to camouflage the unsightly lumps and bumps,” explains Dr. Newall.   

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