Although the bacterium Clostridium Botulinum is not harmful, it can produce dangerously poisonous toxins when deprived of oxygen. These toxins were first discovered in poorly prepared sausages and were therefore named after the Latin for sausage - 'botulus'.
Despite being so toxic, a purified derivative of botulinum toxin can be used in very small quantities, a few billionths of a gram dissolved in saline, as a medical and cosmetic injectable. It is available under four product formulations but the best known brand is Botox.
This has long been used medically to treat conditions such as cerebral palsy, eye squints, incontinence, muscle spasms, migraines and excess sweating but is now better known as a cosmetic treatment to smooth out wrinkles. An injection of Botox prevents wrinkles by temporarily blocking signals from the nerves to the muscles so they no longer contract and the wrinkles relax and soften. Botox typically lasts between 12 and 16 weeks.
Botox and other brands containing the botulinum toxin can cause a number of side effects including allergic reactions, bruising, bleeding, swelling, headaches, fever, dizziness and nausea. It can also spread into adjacent tissues and cause problems such as eyelid droop, crooked smile, dry eye or excessive watering.
There are also rare but serious complications that many people are not aware of. The effect of botulinum toxin may spread to other parts of the body causing botulism-like symptoms including blurred or double vision; difficulty swallowing, breathing or speaking; severe muscle weakness; loss of bladder control; severe skin rash or itching; and chest pain. Anyone with these symptoms should seek medical attention immediately because the paralysis could affect the muscles that control breathing and can cause fatal respiratory failure.
While such serious side effects are extremely rare, the cosmetic surgery industry remains largely unregulated and the risk of severe complications is greater when potentially unlicensed injections are being administered by people who are not properly trained.
The Daily Mail has reported that five out of six users have no idea what is being injected into their face and whether or not it actually contains the key Botox ingredient. More people are also having injections in non-sterile environments such as unregistered beauty salons, trade shows or in their own or a friend's home and do not know if the person administering the injection is appropriately trained to perform the procedure.
Sarah Gubbins, clinical negligence solicitor at Penningtons Manches LLP, comments: "We are very concerned about the number of people having injections without knowing whether the ingredients being injected into their face meets the required quality and safety standards. Due to the popularity of the use of Botox, the incidence of fake Botox injections is also on the rise leading to a huge increase in the number of corrective cosmetic procedures required to repair the damage being caused by unregulated products.
“Although Botox is considered to be an easy, relatively safe option, it is still a cosmetic procedure and should be carried out in a clinical environment by a trained professional, using a medically licensed product. It is very worrying that potential patients are opting, knowingly or unknowingly, for cheaper or more convenient ‘faux-tox’ alternatives, without any understanding of the avoidable damage they could be causing.”