SEVENTEEN women in Venezuela have died after illegal injections of liquid silicone into their buttocks over the past 12 months, it has emerged.
The substance, known as “bio-polymer” in the South American country, is offered by medically unaccredited companies such as beauty salons, in an attempt to produce a figure considered more attractive to men.
The Venezuelan Plastic Surgeons Association estimates 30 per cent of women between the ages of 18 and 30 have received injections of the material, which is manufactured from petroleum.
Venezuela has woken up to the dangers posed by these procedures after the death of Mary Perdomo, the founder of the No to Biopolymers, Yes to Life organisation, which aims to educate women about the dangers of such extreme treatments.
She received injections in 2008 before falling ill three months later. In late 2012, she was diagnosed with auto-immune disease resulting from the liquid’s migration throughout her body. She died last week after a heart attack.
“One hundred per cent of cases present problems,” Jesus Pereira, the organisation’s president, said.
“It could be four days after the injections, or it could be 30 years, but eventually the substance will begin to compromise an individual’s health.”
Once injected, the liquid silicone migrates away from the posterior. Silicoma, as its effects are known, cause rashes, chronic and severe pain in affected areas and the eventual compromise of the body’s immune system.
“It isn’t unusual for parents to offer these injections as 15th birthday presents, so we have to get to them while they’re very young,” said Astrid de la Rosa, the Caracas representative of a foundation that tours schools to educate children about the dangers posed by liquid silicone injections.
She paid the equivalent of £450 for biopolymer injections in 2008. Today, the same injections in a Caracas beauty salon cost just £5.
“I spent two years bed-bound after the liquid migrated into the muscles which support my spine,” she said. “It’s inoperable, but for the past three years, I’ve been on a daily cocktail of painkillers and antibiotics to cope with the pain.”
The sale of this restricted substance for cosmetic use carries a minimum two-year prison sentence in Venezuela. However, it is readily available through internet vendors, who openly advertise their wares on a second-hand market website.
Very few individuals have been prosecuted for the distribution of biopolymers, leading activist groups to question the Venezuelan government’s commitment to what is now classified as a public health issue.
“We need to see greater action from the government in educating people as to these demonic substances,” Dr Pereira said.
“Unfortunately, the majority of people undergoing this procedure are young and poorly educated women, who feel put under pressure by the expectations of a very intense beauty culture.”
Venezuela’s beauty industry is, per capita, the world’s most profitable. The average woman spends 20 per cent of her annual salary on beauty products and treatments, while 4,000 people undergo plastic surgery every month.
In the oil-rich country, only the petroleum industry is more profitable.
Biopolymer injections were used by some men in Eastern Europe during the 1970s in a bid to avoid national service. They would inject the substance in order to imitate tumours or bodily deformities to try to fail medical fitness examinations.
Liquid silicon injections are illegal in the United States and the European Union.