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Pumping and Plumping – The Use of Unsafe Injectables

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Updated January 04, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Plastic surgeons are seeing more and more patients who have been injected with non-FDA approved injectables. These enhancements are happening at underground gatherings called “Pumping and Plumping” parties. At these events, non-qualified “providers” are injecting non-medical grade materials into the lips, cheeks, temples, chin, forehead, buttocks, and breasts of uninformed clients.

Why are they called "Pumping and Plumping" parties?

“Pumping and plumping” is the phrase used to describe these parties: one, because it’s catchy, and two, because that is literally what is occurring. Large volumes of non-medical grade material are being “pumped” into the breast, buttocks, lips, cheeks, etc. with a hand pump or a motorized pump (just like air being pumped into a tire) in order to “plump” these areas.

Who attends these "pumping and plumping" parties?

People who attend these underground parties are often looking to save money. People from all backgrounds have been known to attend these pumping and plumping parties. However, they are often associated with the transsexual community. Why? Sex reassignment surgery can be prohibitively expensive. Transforming from male-to-female or female-to-male can cost as much as $80,000. Unfortunately, the attempt to save money is often nullified by the amount of money it takes to correct the deformities and disfigurement caused by the unapproved substance or material.

What type of material is used at these parties?

Usually, the material used at pumping and plumping parties is an industrial grade (not medical grade) silicone, not fit to be placed in a human body. Unlike medical grade silicone, industrial grade silicone is used as a sealant against water and air penetration, as a lubricant (such as oil) to reduce friction in machinery, and as an adhesive to bond surfaces together. Medical grade silicone is appropriate for medical uses such as implants, scar treatment, drains, etc. There is some medical grade silicone that can be used for injection into the body for cosmetic purposes. This is only done in small doses to treat small areas, such as acne scars, not to pump up lips or larger areas. This type of medical grade silicone should only be injected by a highly trained medical professional, such as a plastic surgeon or dermatologist.

Is this a major problem?

While the medical community, particularly plastic surgeons, has long been aware of the practice of injecting inappropriate substances into the body for enhancement purposes, the non-medical community was only more recently introduced to this dangerous trend via a celebrity. Unfortunately, it often takes a celebrity name to bring the proper attention to an important matter. In 2007, the dangers of industrial grade substances came to light via the most popular victim of the injection of non-medical grade substances, Priscilla Presley. Despite this cautionary tale, the practice still continues.

How can I avoid becoming a victim?

If there is one aspect of your life in which you shouldn’t take shortcuts, it is with your health and well-being. If you desire to have facial enhancement with an injectable, make sure you know who is doing the injection and what substance the plastic surgeon will be injecting. If you go to a reputable plastic surgeon, she/he has been trained in how to perform injections. Additionally, the injectables used by the plastic surgeon should come directly from the manufacturer so that here is an established chain of custody. Restylane, Juvéderm, Radiesse, BOTOX, Sculptra, Perlane, and Artefill are known, FDA-approved injectables in the United States. There is a tracking number associated with the product in case of any adverse events. While injectable injections are not considered a major procedure, the process should take place in a clean room and your face should be cleaned before the injection.

So before you have any substance injected into your face follow these three steps:
  1. Make sure your doctor is a plastic surgeon or cosmetic surgeon trained by an accredited program. Plastic surgeons have had exposure to injections during their training. Think twice about getting injections from family practitioners, obstetricians, gynecologists, and other non-plastic surgeons who are performing injections to augment their income. These medical providers training usually consists of taking some type of weekend course, if any at all. Don’t be afraid to ask what type of training your injector obtained.

  2. Before your injection, make sure you see the package for a recognizable, FDA-approved name. Restylane, Juvéderm, Radiesse, BOTOX, Dysport, Sculptra, Perlane, and Artefill are known, FDA-approved injectables in the United States.

  3. Make sure the package has not been opened. Some medical providers share syringes between patients to save costs and still charge full price! This is NOT acceptable. BOTOX and Dysport will be the exceptions, as these come in a bottle that, with proper technique, can be safely shared between multiple people.

As for enhancement of the breasts and buttocks, this is not done with injectables, at least in the United States. There is one injectable, Macrolane, that has been used in Asia and Europe to enhance the buttocks and breasts. It has not been approved by the United States FDA. Furthermore, 25% of patients in a Swedish study had the complication of capsular contracture after breast augmentation with Macrolane.

In summary, make sure you know who is doing the injecting and what she or he is injecting. You only get one you.

Sources:

American Psychiatric Association. Transgender Individuals and Gender Identity.http://www.apa.org/topics/sexuality/transgender.pdf. Accessed May 6, 2011.

Hedén P, Olenius M, Tengvar M. Macrolane for breast enhancement: 12-month follow-up. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2011 Feb;127(2):850-60.

Lip and Face Pumping: Underground Enhancement to Avoid. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/753539?src=mp&spon=48. Accessed December 26, 2011.

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