BEIRUT: When people ask Dr. Dany Touma how bad the illegal plastic surgery industry has become, he tells them about a young woman who went to a spa for a beauty treatment and left with lips that might be ruined forever.
The woman was at a regular spa appointment when an employee asked her if she wanted something to enhance the size of her lips. When she said yes, a cosmetician with no medical license injected her lips with an unregulated substance.
Her lips will require extensive treatment to correct the damage done, and they may be forever altered.
“It was really an awful substance,” says Touma, who runs a plastic surgery clinic.
A growing, seedy underground of unlicensed cosmeticians are taking advantage of plastic surgery’s huge appeal in Lebanon, preying on people looking for a shortcut to surgically enhanced beauty, experts said Thursday as a group of medical organizations launched an initiative to try and roll back the growing illicit industry.
The push comes ahead of the plastic surgery spike before the summer season, and includes a television advertisement and poster campaign to warn the public about the dangers of unregulated procedures by non-doctors.
“Between disfigurement and cosmetic surgery there is 12 years of medicine. A specialized doctor is your guarantee,” the tagline of the advertisement says.
The illegal and dangerous procedures often use the mostly unregulated space provided by spas, where a makeover and a massage can turn disastrous if spas take advantage of their clients’ trust and relaxation.
The new initiative to fight illegal surgery includes a protocol signed by representatives of the Health Ministry, the Order of Physicians and associations concerned with dermatology and plastic surgery. Their nine-point plan is a bid to try and coordinate a response to a shady industry that is difficult to regulate. The protocol stipulates the pursuit of people practicing illegal surgeries and involves investigative teams and creating lists of cosmetic centers to monitor. The operations are known to take place in pharmacies and other health clinics as well as spas.
“If the doctor [performs a procedure that involves] a complication, people can call the Lebanese Order of Physicians, but if it is a complication by a non-doctor the Lebanese Order of Physicians has no say; the only thing they can do is call the Ministry of Health,” said Touma, explaining the regulatory predicament at a news conference.
Women account for the large majority of plastic surgeries in the country, but men are also increasingly having work done, and doctors say they account for some 30 percent of procedures.
Lebanon is also a medical tourism country that attracts large numbers of foreigners seeking operations.
Popular operations such as nose jobs cost a few thousand dollars, which can be cost-prohibitive for many people in the country who are pressured to fit in with fashion trends despite their low income. Corner-cutting treatments such as fad diets and supplements, and now cheap nonmedical cosmetic surgeries, are increasingly popular for people who can’t afford expensive procedures, doctors say.
Sharaf Abu Sharaf, the president of the Order of Physicians, said it was the government’s responsibility to educate the public about the dangers of the illicit procedure industry, and police things as best they can.
“Our responsibility as professional institutions is to inform the public because they lack the proper knowledge. Because we know what might happen,” Abu Sharaf said.