For millions of Americans, the solution to crow's feet, thin lips, and frown lines is at the end of a syringe, or in a bottle. A quick trip to a medical spa, dermatologist or plastic surgeon for a Botox injection, lip augmentation or chemical peel offers the promise of a youthful look.
But these cosmetic procedures -- and the medical expertise that comes with them -- don't come cheap. For a single treatment of Botox, doctors charge about $380; for lip-plumping injections, over $500; and for a chemical peel, a whopping $700.
These high prices are enough for some consumers to take their business away from medical professionals, and go instead to the Web. They are "doing it themselves," ordering prescription-only products online, and injecting themselves at home.
Laurie D'Alleva, of Mansfield, Texas, is a big fan of "DIY" beauty injections and treatments. She is the face of a DiscountMedSpa.com, a website stocked with what she claims are pharmaceutical-grade cosmetics, similar to Botox, Restylane, and Retin-A.
Self-injecting botulinum toxin might sound dangerous, but D'Alleva, 39, tries to put her customers at ease with informational videos, complete with tips and pointers on how, and where, to inject. "It doesn't hurt... It's easy," D'Alleva claims in one video, as she stands in front of a mirror and injects her face repeatedly.
It might sound easy, but is it safe to self-inject powerful drugs obtained from a Web site?
Absolutely not, according to Dr. Joel Cohen of AboutSkin Dermatology in Denver, Colo. He is one of the leading experts in the treatment of complications related to cosmetic injectables, and has published extensively on the topic.
Every few weeks, Cohen sees a patient who needs his help because of a disfiguring complication from a cosmetic injectable.
"In this economy, people are looking to cut corners," Cohen said. But he adds that DIY cosmetic procedures are a terrible way to save money, and only skilled professionals can administer the injections safely.
Someone ordering a pharmaceutical-grade product from a website like DiscountMedSpa.com has "no idea what they are getting," Dr. Cohen said. Self-injecting is "incredibly dangerous and potentially a disaster."
Disaster isn't what "Alex," a paramedic, had in mind when she visited DiscountMedSpa.com a few months ago. In her 40s and dating, she just wanted to improve her look, and save some money. She asked ABC News not to disclose her identity.
After viewing "every one" of the instructional self-injection videos on D'Alleva's site, Alex was convinced she could do it herself, since using needles was part of her job.
"Why should I pay somebody else that got a few hours of training to do something I think I can do pretty easily?" she said she thought at the time.
Alex paid $450 for a DiscountMedSpa.com products including an injectable facial filler. She says she injected the products under her eyes and alongside her mouth.
But "the next morning, I woke up horrified by what I saw," she said. "Literally, my heart started pounding, and I thought, 'What have I done, what am I going to do?'"
Alex said the injections caused bags and lumps under her eyes, and a hard, infected pustule on her cheek. Desperate, she turned to Dr. Jerome Potozkin for help.