July 20, 2009— -- You can still see the horrifying effects of botched plastic surgery on a woman who says "it's a nightmare that doesn't seem to end."
But in the case of the woman we'll call Mary, who asked that her real name not be used to protect her privacy, there is no doctor at fault. She only has herself to blame.
"It's very embarrassing that somebody would actually do this," she admitted. "Insane, I can't believe I did what I did."
In search of an inexpensive, do-it yourself version of a silicone injection she had gotten from a doctor to smooth a scar, the Midwestern mother injected her lips and face with silicone she purchased over the Internet.
At first she thought she'd hit the beauty jackpot.
"I actually felt pretty proud of myself. I thought this is a cheap way to go, it looks good," she said. "This one Web site had it for $10 for a bottle."
But within 24 hours those desired results quickly turned into a before and after nightmare.
"By the following day it was just completely inflamed my whole face and the area that you can see in the cheek was very raised and very infected," she said. "It expands, it's like rubber and your own collagen is forming scar tissue around it…it just looked like horrible blisters."
The silicone procedure was nothing new to Mary. For nearly $1,000 a plastic surgeon had injected it into her face once before to help fade a scar from an accident. But what he used what medical-grade silicone, and what Mary purchased wasn't medical grade and was labeled as a personal lubricant.
"At the time I thought it would be okay," she said. "I thought most of it would come out of the face and the lips and very little of it would actually stay in there. I never dreamt this would happen."
Mary acknowledged she thought it would be alright to inject herself with silicone because she'd seen a doctor do it.
"It's only a select few people who can afford to have this done," she said, citing the expense of treatments such as Botox and wrinkle fillers like Restylane and Juvederm. "That's hundreds of dollars every time you have it done and it's not permanent. Who can afford that?"
Recession Results in Costly DIY Procedures
Unfortunately, instead of saving thousands, Mary has ended up with massive medical bills and had to turn to a California plastic surgeon when no doctor in her area could help remove the infected silicone.
"It's nothing you can just draw out -- it's something you have to actually go in and surgically cut out," explained Dr. Steven Williams. "The body looks at this as almost like an invasion and tries to break down the material and that's accompanied by inflammation and scar tissue."
Williams was able to help Mary, but says that "once someone goes down that path they're never really going to be back to normal."
He says the current economy is driving people to inexpensive but dangerous do-it-yourself procedures.
In 2008, a Korean plastic surgery addict who was once a beautiful singer and model couldn't afford silicone treatments anymore or find a doctor to treat her after decades of procedures.
Hang Mioku began injecting herself with cooking oil, and the result was disastrous. Doctors ultimately removed a half pound of oil from her face and neck, but she'll never be able to regain her original appearance.
In a study published by the U.K.'s Royal College of Psychiatrists, doctors cite other extreme cases associated with a condition called body dysmorphic disorder, a mental illness in which sufferers fixate on a small or imagined flaw with their appearance.
Unable to afford professional treatments, one patient used sandpaper as a form of derm-abrasion to remove scars and lighten his skin.
"We've had several patients try to remove implants from themselves, try to take off skin lesions themselves all with relatively disastrous consequences," said Williams. "They don't know what they're injecting, they don't know the correct techniques, they can have problems ranging from infection injecting into the wrong area damaging vascular structure, damaging neurologic structures."
Beauty More Than Skin Deep
Williams says affordable at-home kits sold on the Internet are also taking off, from a simple clip that promises a thinner nose to more extreme laser treatments and acid peels.
One user wrote that she "loved the effects" and gets "tons of compliments now," but another wrote about a very different experience that landed her in the emergency room.
"[A] home chemical peel left third-degree burns, which led to a staph infection and several hospitalizations and emergency room visits," she wrote.
Mary now says buyer beware -- the mere $10 she paid for the price of beauty ended up costing her everything.
"The way we look, it's huge," she said. "I am frightened everyday this is not going away and knowing I did it to myself, I should have been happy with the way I looked."
The most important lesson she learned is that beauty is more than skin deep.
"I have to leave it in God's hands and realize there are more important things in life than how we all look," she said. "I think people get carried away with perfection. I have to live the rest of my life with this."