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Cheap Botox, at-home chemical peels can cause serious injury

Painting your bedroom, putting in a water garden and planting flowers are all safe to tackle as do-it-yourself weekend projects, but what about skin care?

From at-home chemical peels to do-it-yourself tattoo removal, self treatments may sound like an appealing and thrifty alternative to a doctor's visit. But doctors say at-home beauty remedies can be hazardous to your health.

Doctors with the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery say they've noticed an increase in the use of such items, as well as an increase in injuries caused by their misuse.

A survey of ASDS doctors revealed more than half of dermatologists saw an increase last year in the number of patients treated as a result of complications caused by someone other than a physician.

Some of the most common complications seen in patients are from chemical peels and filler injections, products that should only be used by a professional dermatologist, said Dr. Ranella Hirsch, an ASDS spokeswoman in Cambridge, Mass.

"These are procedures that can cause severe, profound, permanent injury when done by the wrong hands," Hirsch said.

While Hirsch said it's impossible to know exactly how many cases of burns, scars and disfigurements have occurred, doctors are seeing - and having to correct - many do-it-yourself mishaps.

"These incidents are widely unreported," Hirsch said. "These people are under no supervision, so it's not like we have exact numbers. What we do know is that it is happening, and the ones we do hear about are only the tip of the iceberg. There are so many we don't know about because it's happening under the radar."

How are people finding these often harmful products? Hirsch said most of the items are only a click away. Products such as chemical face peels and bleaches can be easily found online simply by doing a Google search.

"The new wrinkle, no pun intended, is buying acid (for chemical peels) on the Internet. The only way to describe this is it's just crazy. Why do this to yourself when you can seriously injure yourself?" Hirsch said. "This is like applying battery acid to their faces. Why would anyone do that?"

The site Makeupartistschoice.com offers "doctor-strength," 70 percent glycolic acid peels on its site, and Doctorsecret.com calls its similar, $68 peel kit the "anti-aging fountain of youth."

Doctors say peels like this should only be used and administered under the care of a trained dermatologist. Peels and bleaches sold over the Internet are not regulated by any overseeing company, Hirsch said.

"You know, people say, 'Oh, it's on eBay so it must be safe.' Nothing's regulated. You don't know what you're getting," she said.

Convenience spas

Equally as problematic as at-home treatments, Hirsch said, are medispas, facilities that claim to offer procedures from facials to high-grade procedures under a doctor's supervision.

Lots of people looking to erase lines on their face or rejuvenate their skin seek help at these spas, which Hirsch refers to as "get-your-Botox-while-at-lunch" places. Often, though, doctors aren't the ones administering the treatments.

"There's a doctor's name on the door, but you can never find a doctor in the place, and the treatments are often administered by people who have limited training," Hirsch said.

An Internet search for medispas in Georgia turns up more than 800 results, including 10 results for Atlanta and four for Gwinnett. Most offer Botox injections, chemical peels and facials, skin bleaching and laser hair removal.

Hirsch said the attraction of quickie medical spas seems to be convenience and price, but she said consumers should beware.

"The way they get you in is that they charge less, but they are inferior products. And I've heard horror stories of people getting not real Botox. And again, that's a big problem," Hirsch said. "If you go to a doctor's office and you're paying $150 to $250 for Botox, that's because you're getting it from a trained professional and you're getting the real stuff - Botox is expensive because we're buying the FDA-tested and approved product."

Before customers seek out any type of skin or cosmetic beauty treatment, the ASDS recommends checking to be sure a board-certified dermasurgeon will be on-site at the spa.

Hirsch has one last tip: stay away from places offering prices that seem too good to be true. They probably are.

"I always say when it's your face, you have to go for the best," Hirsch said.