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Health Department Warns that Cosmetic Injections from Unlicensed Practitioners Can Cause Serious Health Effects and Death

October 07, 2010

The Health Department today warned New Yorkers about the dangers of receiving body-enhancement injections from unlicensed practitioners. The Health Department has been notified of five such cases in the past two years involving injections of various oils to the hips, thighs, breasts and buttocks for cosmetic purposes; similar cases have been reported in other cities and states. These practices are illegal and unsafe. These effects can occur shortly after the procedure or years later.

Past reports of adverse reactions have focused mainly on transgender individuals, but the Health Department has recently received case reports involving Latina women. The most recent was in December of 2008.

The substances used to enhance body parts include silicone, petroleum jelly, castor oil, mineral oil or cod liver oil. The injections can cause serious infections, nerve damage, respiratory and kidney failure, irreversible disabilities, disfigurement and death. They also carry the risk of spreading infectious diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis B and C.

“People who undergo these unsafe procedures hope to enhance their appearance, but the reality can be lifelong deformity and even death,” said Dr. Nathan Graber, director of the Health Department’s Environmental and Occupational Disease program. “We urge people to talk to a licensed health care provider about where to go for safe procedures.”

“The fact that transgender women seek out unlicensed practitioners to perform these dangerous procedures speaks volumes about the unmet need for access to safe and affordable shape-modifying procedures,” said Dr. Gal Mayer, medical director of the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center. “Transgender women need to know the dangers of these injections and the medical community needs to focus on creating safer and more affordable procedures.”

How to avoid hazardous cosmetic procedures:

  • Never undergo treatment outside of a licensed clinical setting. Procedures offered at home or in hotels are typically illegal and unsafe.
  • The use of oils to enhance body parts is risky under any circumstances. Licensed health care providers should not offer oil injections.
  • If you have had a procedure from an unlicensed practitioner, inform your regular health care provider so that any complications can be treated promptly.

The Health Department has sent an alert to health care providers in New York City, asking them to inform the Poison Control Center if they suspect complications from an oil injection. The Health Department is also asking health care providers to advise patients of the risks. Patients seeking cosmetic enhancements should be referred to licensed medical providers who provide only safe, medically approved treatments.