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Botox, TikTok

Exploring the toxic Botox wars playing out on TikTok

From the pillow face filter to the #Babybotox trend, the pandemic has fuelled a Botox boom that Gen Z and millennials are documenting on TikTok – as well as a ferocious dermal debate

When we look back on how we spent time in 2020, two apps will spring to mind; Zoom and TikTok. Days were spent staring at our own tired and unfiltered faces during the day, before clocking off to spend time looking at the photoshopped and filtered faces of others at night. The result? A botox boom that millennials and Gen Z are documenting on TikTok.

Save Face, a UK register of accredited practitioners who provide non-surgical cosmetic procedures, expected a quiet few months when the pandemic put a stop to treatments. “It’s been the opposite,” Director Ashton Collins says, “our patient enquiries and web traffic increased over 60 per cent.” Many new customers sought treatment after seeing themselves talk and express emotions over video calls. “It came at a time when people couldn’t access other beauty treatments, so insecurities become magnified,” she says.

A 2020 survey by the Cosmetic Surgery Solicitors found people aged 21 to 25 were most conscious of their appearance over video call, and feel ‘very unhappy’ with the way they look. As a result of these newfound insecurities, 16.7 per cent of respondents said that their desire for cosmetic surgery had increased, explaining Save Face’s boom in business. In true Gen-Z style, these newfound insecurities have translated into botox-related TikToks infiltrating For You Pages (FYP). The Botox hashtag on TikTok has over one billion views.

Videos on the botox ‘side’ of TikTok range from cosmetic surgeons educating people on how botulinum toxin (botox) works and advertising their services to people using the caricature ‘pillow face filter’, which gives you chiselled cheeks and oversized lips. Influencers are also documenting their trips to get botox and strangers are discussing their ‘botched botox’ horror stories.

“I feel like botox is so normalised on social media now,” says Lucy Birkbeck, a 24-year-old from Buckinghamshire, “I’d definitely consider getting something subtle and ‘natural’ looking, such as baby Botox.” Baby botox, ‘babytox’, or preventative Botox involves beginning a routine of regular botox in your twenties to prevent your face from making the expressions that would cause lines or wrinkles in the first place. “I probably wouldn’t have even given a second thought towards any sort of Botox before seeing people’s results on social media,” she says. #Babybotox has 6.1 million views on TikTok.

For some influencers, like 22-year-old Summer Lowe from Florida, TikTok is a good way to combat unachievable beauty standards by being open about getting botox. “I know I enjoy when celebrities or influencers let their followers know what they have,” Lowe says. “People can form unrealistic expectations and wonder why they don’t look the same. If people are open about it, they’ll understand that people don’t look like that naturally.” Others, like 33-year-old Chicago blogger Whitney Buha, are using the platform to educate, after having ‘botched Botox’. 

“I think seeing so much content about Botox makes me think how sad it is that people's unique features are taken away and how it often obscures their ethnicity”

A few days after getting botox, Buha noticed her left eyebrow was a lot lower than her right and was instructed to come back in for an 'easy fix’. Over the next few days, she began to see her left eyelid droop until it began to completely close, making one eye look pulled open and the other pulled closed. The blogger decided to document her experience on TikTok. “Before this happened to me, I didn’t know it could and decided to open up about it because other people didn't know either,” she says. The video revealing her botched botox has 2.2 million views. “I would never tell anyone to get botox or not get botox,” says Buha, “but I think if someone is considering it they should do their research and understand the risks. You don’t want anyone to end up in my situation.”

Caryl Davies, a 23-year-old from Wales, was put off by the influx of Botox TikToks. “I think seeing so much content about botox makes me think how sad it is that people's unique features are taken away and how it often obscures their ethnicity,” she says. “It's so unsettling to see comments from teenagers comparing themselves to an unattainable beauty standard when they are still growing into themselves.”


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♬ Peaches - Justin Bieber

The Department of Health estimates that as many as 41,000 botox procedures were carried out on under 18s in 2020, due to the absence of a minimum age restriction for cosmetic procedures in the UK. Ashton Collins from Save Face believes TikTok can add to the trivialisation of treatments such as botox for young people, due to the short nature of the videos and lack of explanation around them. “Young people perceive these treatments as an extension to getting your hair and your nails done, as opposed to medical treatments carrying serious risk.” At the end of April, after months of campaigning, Save Face helped pass The Children’s Act in parliament. The bill bans under 18s from being able to receive cosmetic Botox or fillers.

Despite this, Botox and cosmetic surgery are far from being properly regulated in the UK. “You don’t have to have any training to perform these treatments,” explains Collins, “anybody could do them legally. So if you decided to buy filler from Amazon this afternoon and set yourself up as a treatment provider on Instagram, you could.” As a result, Save Face is inundated with patient complaints; “last year, we had just over 2,000 patient complaints and nearly 50 per cent were from women predominantly aged between 18-25. Of those, nearly 80 per cent found their practitioner using social media,” Collins says.

As we begin to have more access to salons, hairdressers and beauticians and our video calls slowly but surely return to face to face meetings, it remains to see whether the real-life demand and virtual obsession with botox endures. But as we approach a summer free of lockdown restrictions, Botox or not, there hopefully won’t be a frown in sight.