Photo-Illustration: Joe Darrow/Muppets/Walt Disney Prods/Kobal/Shutterstock
Since about 2016, millions of people have gone to dermatologists to put things on their faces for one particular goal: to look like sexy babies. The way they accomplished this was with filler, usually injections of acid and fat. This era of filler created a specific aesthetic marked by heart-shaped faces, tiny noses, and full, puffy lips and cheeks.
Very recently, the faces have started to go the other way.
“I can’t remember the last time someone asked me for big, juicy, full lips,” says Dhaval Bhanusali, the doctor behind Martha Stewart’s Eternal Skin.
If you know famous faces, the transition can be defined like this: “Everyone wanted to look like Kylie Jenner. Now they want to look like Bella Hadid,” says Matthew James, a British makeup artist and beauty influencer who used fillers for ten years to look “a little padded.”
One of the reasons for the change? It turns out that fillers weren’t the elixir of youth that people wanted them to be. Over time, many filler enthusiasts discovered that the substance was actually migrating around the face.
“It was marketed as risk-free,” says Carly Raye, a Toronto-based content creator who got lip fillers in her 20s. She had a common experience: her filler dislodged, creating a ring of swelling around her labia that several surgeons have described. such as “Juvéderm mustache”, “duck lips” or “Homer Simpson face”.
The padding could accumulate anywhere. “She was smiling and had little bumps on the top of her cheeks,” says Rosie Genute, a makeup artist from Jersey, of her under-eye filler.
Raye and Genute, like many other patients, were led to believe that the risks involved were minimal and that while migration was possible, it was unlikely. Also, patients were often told that the filler would wear off quickly. That is not always the case. “We say that the filling only lasts one year, but that is completely false. It usually lasts a lot longer,” says Sagar Patel, a Beverly Hills facialist. Plastic Surgeon.
Why all this new information about fillers now? It seems like everyone from providers to patients just didn’t know much about it to begin with. And maybe they still don’t. Hannah, a graduate student in New York, described her first few months with fillers in 2021 as wonderful. “I looked more beautiful than ever,” she wrote by email, “and then in the fifth month my whole face swelled up and wouldn’t go down.”
She says she received “deeply conflicting” explanations from the 20 doctors she saw in the months that followed. “The doctor who did the fillers, seeing my face, informed me that such a reaction was ‘impossible’ and that she ‘had never seen anything like it before.’”
Hannah was prescribed dozens of medications to get rid of the swelling. When neither of them worked out, she, like Genute and Raye, with the migrating fill of hers, decided to disband.
But dissolving the filler, like the filler in the first place, is not a panacea. It is done by injecting hyaluronidase, an enzyme. Several doctors say that while it’s medically safe, they avoid using it outside of emergencies or, as Simon Ourian, surgeon to Kim Kardashian, Megan Fox and several Victoria’s Secret Angels, puts it, when “things are really grotesque.”
Ourian and several other vendors say this is because hyaluronidase can also dissolve some of your natural tissue, not just your fillers. Additionally, many patients describe dissolution as an uncomfortable and, in some cases, extremely painful process. “Imagine snake venom or pure acid,” says one patient.
But pain can be the best of times, judging by the many Internet support groups devoted to hyaluronidase complications. I talked to a dozen solvents. Everyone describes their post-hyaluronidase skin in disturbing terms: “spongy,” “melted,” “jelly-like.” “I feel like the skin isn’t attached to my face,” says a woman in her 20s. Another of her shared a photo of herself pulling handfuls of loose cheek skin on either side of her face.
Patients who have had no complications from filling and dissolving spend between $2,000 and $6,000 on the process, but even those who are fully dissolved report scar tissue at the injection site. Patients who have had complications, and have tried to fix them, say that between travel, sick leave, surgical facelifts and various treatments, they have spent as much as $70,000.
The sheer number of people in online support groups is a testament to how widespread backfilling is. “A few years ago, some doctors were just learning how to do fillers. She tends to be overzealous and fill in the face, chasing every line, every sign of aging,” Ourian says. “And people were paying for these syringe procedures, so there was a tendency to keep putting more and more and more into the quest for better results.”
“Now,” he adds, “everyone is realizing that looking like a squirrel is bad looks.”
Some surgeons pointed to the rise of chain clinics and medical spas as responsible for underfilled faces. “People take an eight-hour course and then they go and start injecting themselves,” says Akis Ntosos, who runs a boutique clinic on the Upper East Side. One surgeon called over-filled faces a “newbie’s mistake,” while a dermatologist described med-spas as “junkyards.”
For the most part, though, it doesn’t really seem to matter where people went for these procedures: the results were mixed at best. Alice, a Las Vegas waitress, had her lip filler dissolved by a famous Beverly Hills surgeon whom she went to for lip augmentation surgery. Alice is a pseudonym: she’s worried about retaliation from the practice, which took her coldly when she complained about complications from the solvent, which she says left her with deep cuts around her nose and mouth, rashes all over her body and boiling rose. her lips.
When she called the clinic, the surgeon suggested that she had caught a virus and that if she came again, she could buy more filler to repair the cut.
Many patients reported being pressured, fired, and incommunicado by providers. I spoke to a retired utility technician in his 60s who went to a medical spa for a consultation on his acne scars, “but they oversold me and started putting fillers everywhere,” he says. His skin swelled and split open. He got worse: “The solvent spread on my cheek and it turned white and discolored. The skin on him began to slowly peel off and he couldn’t really see through his eye.”
“It basically ruined my life,” he says.
With their fillers dissolved, clients in search of a more angular face now line up for buccal fat removal.
“Instead of luscious lips and small noses, we’re seeing defined jawlines and cheekbones,” says Patel. “In 2017, it was all about looking young and cute, but now people say: I don’t want to look like I’m 15. I want to look like I’m 28 and sexy..” There’s a name for this new face: Raptured.
“You build the mountain with filler and dig the valley with buccal fat removal,” Patel explains.
“People want to look shaver without being attention-grabbing, so they want very sleek lips and refined jawlines without a lot of volume,” says Ramtin Kassir, a Manhattan surgeon who does Snooki, some New Jersey housewives, and my cousin. .
“It’s the chic look, if you will,” Ourian says. “It’s a chiseled look. You have nice high cheekbones. You want to look like you didn’t do anything, naturally you look that good.”
A surgeon in Los Angeles with a waiting list until 2025 offered to do my face for free “whenever you need it.” The technicians would simply go into my mouth and slide a slab of fat under each cheek, she explained, and for $5,000, I could spray some filler over my cheekbones and I’d look like Bella Hadid, for a few years.
I’m tempted, even after everything I’ve just heard, even when I think of the patients who described being hooked on fillers. “Of course he gets addicted,” Matthew James, the British makeup artist, told me. “You feel like everything that’s wrong with your face can be corrected,” he says. “And then all you see are imperfections, and you’re like, okay I will — is the search for ultra-perfection.”
Matthew James documented his removal of the padding.
“It’s easy to overdo the padding once you start. All of a sudden you look flawless,” repeats Hannah, the grad student. “So it looks like it’s gone after a few months. And you get sad. So you get more.” Although she has spent more than $60,000 to undo the damage caused by her filler, she says that even if she had known about the risks all along, she’s not sure she would have been swayed.
would i be I stood in front of the mirror and licked my cheeks. I then took a contour stick, which I had used from 2016 to 2019 to make my face heart-shaped, and followed the instructions of beauty influencers under the hashtag #modelcheekbones on TikTok, painting blue shadows under my cheeks. I thought I looked beautiful. My partner, who had not been brainwashed after a month of looking at dermatologist-altered faces, said I looked “like Corpse Bride.”
Whatever, with just one quick visit, I could make this my new face. What if the next trend is angelic cheeks? Surely someone could get the fat back, somehow.
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