Health & wellness

Dermal fillers are safe, but consumers should know risks

In the pecking order of wrinkle removal treatments, dermal fillers lie somewhere between Botox injections and a face lift. Injecting fillers composed of collagen, acid gels, or synthetic materials under the skin’s surface to erase crow’s feet and frown lines lasts longer than Botox injections and can do more — such as plumping up thin lips and hollow cheeks. But they can’t remove all the sags that a face lift can, which requires surgery.

It’s not too surprising that dermal fillers have quickly become a hot trend: 2.2 million Americans had the procedure in 2013, up 13 percent from the year before, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

Like breast implants, fillers are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration as medical devices, rather than drugs. That’s because they lie inert under the skin until they eventually get reabsorbed by the body.


Fillers typically last about six months to a year, but one containing polymethylmethacrylate beads (Artefill) is considered permanent.

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While the FDA considers fillers to be safe, agency medical officer Dr. Janette Alexander said in a consumer advisory last week that it’s important to know the laundry list of risks associated with cosmetic fillers.

Doctors are supposed to go through them with prospective patients, but some may gloss over them while showing those persuasive before-and-after photos.

“You should ask [your doctor] what you can expect and contact your health care professional if you are concerned about a particular side effect,” she said.

Common side effects include bruising, redness, swelling, pain, and itching that can last for a few days after the procedure. Less commonly, those who get fillers have reported getting infections, lumpiness or bumps, or a discoloration or change in pigmentation, according to the FDA. In very rare cases, fillers can cause scarring, blurred vision, partial vision loss, and blindness if a medical provider mistakenly injects dermal filler into a blood vessel.


Consumers may also experience severe allergic reactions from the filler materials if they’re allergic to collagen or lidocaine used in some of the fillers. Those with skin inflammation conditions — pimples, rashes, or hives — should postpone treatment until the condition is under control, recommended the FDA. People should avoid wrinkle fillers altogether if they have any bleeding disorder or a predisposition to excessive scarring.

Deborah Kotz can be reached at dkotz@
. Follow her on Twitter @debkotz2.