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Press Release

Press Release # 018-10
Thursday, May 6, 2010

MEDIA CONTACT: (212) 788-5290
Erin Brady/Celina Deleon:

Health Department Cautions New Yorkers that Cosmetic or Body-Enhancement Procedures from Unlicensed Providers Can Cause Disfigurement and Death

May 6, 2010 – The Health Department today warned New Yorkers about the dangers of going to unlicensed, non-medical providers for cosmetic surgery or body enhancement procedures. The agency has received and investigated several complaints of illegal medical practices in recent months. In February, eight women from New Jersey were infected with the bacterium Nocardia after receiving injections of unknown substances from unlicensed practitioners. In March, a Queens woman was hospitalized for a serious infection after undergoing liposuction by a salon operator without a medical license.

The recent reports of infections involved Latina women, although adverse reactions from illegal medical procedures can affect anyone. The Health Department believes that additional cases may have occurred and have not been reported.

Unlicensed providers often promote these procedures as cheap alternatives to cosmetic surgery by licensed professionals. Unlicensed providers perform procedures in homes or offices that lack adequate infection control. Despite their lower prices, these procedures are not safe and can pose serious health risks. Practitioners have been known to use unapproved substances that can cause infections, nerve damage, respiratory and kidney failure, irreversible disabilities, disfigurement and death. Unlicensed practitioners may also lack the precautions needed to avoid spreading infections such as HIV, and Hepatitis B and C.

Here are some procedures that have been linked to unlicensed providers in reports to the Health Department.

  • The injection of foreign substances, such as silicone or polymethyl methacrylate into the body in order to modify body shape and contour.
  • Mesotherapy – the injection of chemicals into the body in an effort to dissolve fat.
  • Liposuction.
  • Botox® (Botulinum toxin) injections

“People who undergo these unlicensed procedures are risking their lives,” said Dr. Nathan Graber, director of the Health Department’s Environmental and Occupational Disease program. “We urge people to talk to a licensed health care provider about where to go for safe procedures.”

The Health Department sent an alert in March to health care providers in New York City, asking them to report any cases of illegal medical practices. The agency is also asking health care providers to advise patients of the risks. Patients seeking cosmetic enhancements should be referred to licensed medical providers who provide only safe, medically-approved treatments.

How to protect yourself from illegal medical practice:
  • Never undergo cosmetic injections or liposuction offered by unlicensed practitioners. Procedures at homes, storefronts, salons, spas or in hotels may be illegal and can be dangerous.
  • Speak to your health care provider if you are considering cosmetic enhancements.
  • If you have had a procedure from an unlicensed practitioner, inform your regular health care provider so that any complications can be treated promptly.  The NYC Poison Control Center can provide information about the toxic properties of the drugs and chemicals used in these procedures.
  • The Poison Control Center is open 24 hours a day, and offers services in Spanish and more than 150 languages. You can reach the Poison Control Center at 212-764-7667 or 800-222-1222. All calls are free and confidential.