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Photography Raghavendra V. Konkathi via Unsplash

The young people illegally injecting themselves with Botox

With the online market for injectables thriving, people are increasingly turning to the internet for their anti-ageing fix – despite the dangers

Alijah Johnson was 24-years-old when he had his first botox injection, at an aesthetic clinic in Virginia Beach. “A girl I was dating said I should probably get Botox to get rid of the fine lines on my forehead,” he says. “I never thought it was a big deal, but when she pointed it out I thought maybe this is bringing my attraction down.” 

Since then, Johnson has gotten 30 units of botox every three to four months, at $330 a pop. Why is Johnson, a paramedic, firefighter, model and Youtuber, willing to fork out for such an invasive procedure before his 25th birthday? “You just want to look youthful. Your skin is a canvas and you want that canvas to be clean,” he says. “A lot of people get noticed because of their appearance nowadays. That’s why I've started making investments in anti-ageing procedures.”

Johnson will continue to get Botox regularly now to prevent further wrinkles: a common occurrence since aesthetics clinics started marketing botox as “preventative”. In the UK, it is illegal to advertise prescription-only medications like Botox, but taking one look at TikTok shows you how ineffective that ban is. Aesthetic clinics promote Botox using trending sounds and claim that the younger you start, the better, while young influencers echo this rhetoric when they film themselves getting their own “preventative” treatments.

The problem? Botox doesn’t prevent wrinkles. “That’s not how it works,” says Dr Amina Ahmed, a cosmetic dermatologist and aesthetician, who once turned away a 19-year-old who came in asking for Botox. “All botulinum toxin does is paralyse the muscle. So because you’re not moving the muscle, the skin is not getting creased and lines don’t appear.” As botox starts to wear off, those wrinkles will appear.

Nevertheless, the chase for eternal youth is driving young people in their droves to Botox. The Department of Health estimated that as many as 41,000 botox procedures were carried out on under 18s in 2020 (the UK has since banned the procedures for minors). And those who can’t afford the professional treatment are turning to DIY methods. Learning from YouTube, where beauty influencers teach their followers how to inject a full face of botox for $45, people are buying Botox online, illegally, and injecting it into their faces at home. 

It’s illegal to buy Botox without a clinical licence in countries like the UK, US and Canada – a prescription from a doctor or a nurse is required – but that doesn’t stop people buying it online, often from websites based in Korea. Due to the risks of self-injecting, the UK government is planning to crack down on unregulated cosmetic procedures – but it’s unlikely this will be enough to deter people. 

33-year-old consultant Eryshka and her friend, 25-year-old addictions counsellor Tyler, have been injecting Botox at home since January 2020. Initially, they went to doctors for their treatments (the only way to legally get the procedures done in their Canadian provenance), but found that the trained professionals “were just getting bodies in and out as quickly as they can” and claim that some would “upsell”, telling clients they need more units of botox than they did. 

Watching these clinicians, Eryshka thought “this isn’t that hard.” A friend in the DIY beauty scene gave her “backdoor access to information” and she learnt how to use the hyaluron pen, which you can buy alongside Hyaluronic Acid, a legal filler used to smooth wrinkles, from platforms like eBay, Amazon and Aliexpress. Feeling confident, she then moved on to needles. Tyler “maybe watched a couple of YouTube videos and some TikTok reels,” he says, before self-injecting his lips. After seeing the results of Eryshka's DIY botox, he started that too.

“At this point in my life, I'm excited to concentrate on looking youthful, but it is kind of depressing how entrenched I am in this culture, where youth is a form of currency” – Eryshka

Injecting yourself with cosmetic dermal fillers and toxins puts you at risk of allergic reactions (Eryshka had this the last time she self-injected), inflammation, infections, and even permanent tissue death, blood clots and blindness when administered incorrectly. The internet is brimming with diagrams showing you where to inject botox, but facial anatomy is complicated and it’s easy to get it wrong. Eryshka once gave her boyfriend “Spock brow”, a common injection result where the outer eyebrow tilts sharply upwards. 

Botox available online often isn’t regulated – like the Korean brand Nabota Botulinum, which was seized from Toronto-based clinics by Health Canada amid fears it was unsafe. There’s also no guarantee that you’re going to get what you paid for. “There’s just so many fraudulent vendors out there,” Eryshka tells Dazed. “They take your money and you never hear from them, or you get something random.” To vet her vendors, Eryshka requests a photo of what she’s ordering to see if the timestamp aligns with the time of her order. She also avoids anything that influencers are promoting for a commission, a common practice in the scene, because “they aren’t doing it for the right reasons”. 

Rehema, a 26-year-old digital marketing manager, gets baby Botox injections. “I’m very expressive and I know that this can cause lines in your face, so Botox is my way to prevent them,” she says. After getting the treatment done professionally she felt that the $400 price tag was too expensive and decided to start self-injecting. “I looked so much better when I had it that I couldn’t imagine going without it and this was a way to save a lot of money.”

Recently, Rehema posted a Youtube video of her injecting Korean Innotox, which she found through a Youtuber who was also self-injecting. She was happy with the results as, like Eryshka, she felt professionals overfilled her face. “Sometimes, injectors over-Botox me to the point where I don’t look like myself,” she explains. “I know my body the best, and I like how when I do it I know how I'll look [afterwards].”

Does she worry about the risks? “No. Whatever happens, happens. And at the end of the day, it’s part of life, taking these risks,” she says. She also doesn’t worry that her videos might influence any young viewers: “I’m very honest about my experience – the pros, the cons – and I give people as much information as they need to make a decision for themselves.” 

The risks haven’t dampened Eryshka’s confidence with self-injection either. She injects around 40 units of Botox into her face every two months and has an 18-month back stash to make sure she doesn’t run out. Working as a sex worker has taught her to see her face as an investment and she’s prepared to make financial sacrifices to keep up her anti-ageing routine. “At this point in my life, I’m excited to concentrate on looking youthful, but it is kind of depressing how entrenched I am in this culture, where youth is a form of currency,” she concedes. 

Johnson thrives off the pressure to ward off wrinkles, Rehema is happy doing anything that makes her feel beautiful, and Tyler gained self-confidence from botox after drug addiction damaged his skin. Eryshka, however, admits it can feel like a prison – once you start, it’s very hard to ever bring yourself to stop. “When you’ve always been more complimented for how you look than what you say, your inner and outer self become inextricably linked. Clinging on to that last bloom of youth as it fucking fades off the rose is just trying a way of exerting control over that.”