After 20 years on her own, Karon Kitchener was looking forward to building a new life with her fiancé. Divorcee Karon, 45, a pilates teacher from South London, was planning to help her husband-to-be develop an upmarket beauty therapy business.
On a whim, she decided to book in for cheek 'enhancement', an injectable water-based filler treatment. It would, she hoped, give her an indefinable, more youthful appearance.
'I wanted to look my best for my wedding,' she said. 'I didn't want anything as drastic as a facelift, but I had read about these fillers and decided to have some injected into my cheeks.'
Disfigured: Karon Kitchener's confidence has been shattered after having a botched facial filler that left her with lumps under her eyes
It was that impulse which led to her dream falling apart. She has been left permanently disfigured - with a sausage-shaped lump under one eye and a series of constantly moving lumps around the other.
'It's as if this stuff has a mind of its own and is trying to get out, which is why it is migrating towards my eyes, she said. 'It's like a layer of custard under the skin. 'Every morning, I wake up not knowing how I am going to look. I feel as though my life has fallen apart.'
Extraordinarily, given testimonies like these, use of cosmetic fillers in Britain is almost entirely unregulated. There are no fewer than 74 different cosmetic 'plumping agents' available, and no requirement for specialist training for the doctors or beauty therapists offering them - or insurance if things go wrong.
'Every morning, I wake up not knowing how I am going to look. I feel as though my life has fallen apart.'
By contrast, in America, the home of anti-ageing procedures, cosmetic fillers are viewed as medical products. They are closely regulated and have to undergo full testing. As a result, only eight of them have been approved as entirely safe for human use.
The consequence of Britain's laissez-faire attitude is that increasing numbers of people are unwittingly putting their faith in little-tested products - administered in some cases by beauty therapists, nurses or even dentists rather than cosmetic surgeons - and paying a devastatingly high price.
Plans for Karon's marriage three years ago were shelved as she underwent repeated procedures to pierce her face and extract the lumps of filler. Sadly, each attempt at surgery simply led to more scarring.
Her confidence was shattered. She suffered repeated infections and sank into deep depression because of the damage to her previously good looks. 'I've had any number of unsuccessful operations to extract the lumps. I have been all over the place to consult people.
Youthful: Karon was hoping to regain her younger looks, but ended up ruining her life after the procedure went wrong
'I even went to Rome to see a specialist, but he said it would cost £50,000 to get it all out. I just don't have that sort of money.
'My relationship with my fiancé is just about holding on by a thread, but I don't feel like getting married, or going out to meet people and promote the business. I don't think anything will be the same again.'
For many, the face is the passport to a successful relationship and career. Despite the fact that nearly half the population is already over 40, youth is still prized above age and experience, and more and more people are being lured into risky cosmetic treatment in an attempt to create an illusion of being younger than they are.
Gel-based 'fillers' have been seized upon as a cheaper and apparently safer alternative to surgical facelifts, but there is increasing evidence that in the wrong hands, they are no such thing.
Most of the products contain vinyls, polymers and other 'biocompatible' plastics, but critics say many of the facial remoulding products on offer are not designed to dissolve in the body, and may break up into lumps if used wrongly.
Botched: The jab has left her with lumps under the skin on her face
All sorts of glues and gels - including the cement used to secure artificial hip and knee joints, and a compound to make synthetic blood vessels - have been tried by unscrupulous cosmetic doctors and beauticians.
The compounds have been approved for use in the human body, but there is no law about where they can be injected, in what volume or the qualifications of the practitioners using them.
Susie Woods, a 40-year-old working in the fitness industry, revealed recently how she needed 25 stitches in her lips after a procedure at a private London clinic to remove a lip 'plumper' which had gone hard.
'The doctor definitely messed up, but I feel so stupid for having it done,' she said. 'I found out afterwards the material he used is only meant for small boney areas, not for soft tissue.
'It cost £800 to put in and £5,000 to get out, but legal action would cost more than I would get back.'
Surprisingly, those in the beauty business are just as vulnerable to the false promises of the filler manufacturers as those lured by magazine ads.
Sarah Payne, 60, a beauty therapist from Richmond, Surrey, is a former manager at the Urban Retreat in Harrods, a posh salon in the well-known store offering everything from haircuts to cosmetic beauty treatments, and other upmarket beauty outlets.
She also decided to opt for a cheek-plumping treatment using a filler called Bio-Alcemid, in the hope of achieving a subtle, more youthful appearance.
'You'd think someone like me would have access to the right information. I did a lot of research, but I still managed to find a doctor who left me with lumps all over my face,' she says.
'It isn't just a case of choosing the right material and the right amount to use, it is also a question of the skill of the person doing it. These are difficult techniques to learn, yet you don't need any knowledge of anatomy or physiolmovingogy to offer them. You don't even have to be a doctor.'
Sarah, a divorced mother of a grownup daughter, is now taking legal action against the specialist who treated her at a London clinic which he has since left, but she is not confident of being compensated. 'If I'm lucky, I might get £25,000, but it is going to cost me a lot of money to prove anything.
'There are lots more people who can't afford to take any action. The amount of damage being done by these fillers is like a bottomless pit and there is nowhere for people to turn.'
She says rumours of filler problems seldom become widely known, and business remains brisk in the industry, with the demand for anti-ageing treatmennt growing ever greater. There are so ny women who live in fear of being dumped and a lot of beautiful women who can't face getting old,' she says.
'Many of them will try anything, and for some reason they suspend their critical judgment. I should know - it happened to me. A lot of people are too embarrassed to complain because they think they brought it on themselves. Often, the clinics offer to put things right for free.
'I have clients who have lumps of this stuff erupting out of their faces... others dreadfully scarred.'
'The clients agree to undergo more treatment which is unsuccessful and more damaging, but they then feel they have waived their right to complain.'
Although there has been a trickle of patients receiving modest out-of-court settlements for filler damage to their faces, no doctor or manufacturer has so far admitted liability.
Paul Balen, a Nottingham solicitor, is representing six cosmetic filler victims who he believes have good cases. But he admits that, for many, the prospects of successful legal action are not good because no laws have been broken.
'I have clients who have lumps of this stuff erupting out of their faces. Others are dreadfully scarred, or they have strange bags of these filler products appearing under their eyes.'
His research has indicated that fillers can be very successful in the right hands, but there is a very small margin of error, and even a minor mistake in the site of the injection, the type of filler or volume used, can lead to terrible disfigurement.
'I find it extraordinary that this treatment has become mainstream without any involvement of the regulatory authorities, just purely because it is cosmetic and not a drug or a therapeutic operation. It is obviously very difficult to get it in the right place on the face, and most of the disasters look like operator error.'
Bio-Alcemid, one of the many products which patients have complained about, was originally developed to reduce the unsightly physical wasting suffered by Aids victims.
Biagio Protopapa, chief executive of Polymekon in Brindisi, Italy, the company which makes it, said his product has been on the market since 2001 and, he claimed, has been used on more than 100,000 people worldwide with only a few harmful side-effects.
It has not so far been approved by the American Food and Drug Administration for use on patients there, but Dr Protopapa, said the complaints about it stemmed purely from error by the doctors who administer it.
'There is a precise technique in using it, and inadequate technique has been a problem with all the fillers, not just this one. If anyone does have a problem, they should get in touch with us straightaway because the longer they wait, the more difficult it is to get it out.'
Meanwhile, people damaged by cosmetic fillers are increasingly filling the waiting rooms of the best-known reconstructive surgeons, in the hopes of havingyet more expensive surgery to repair the damage they have already suffered.
Regrets: Karon as she is now compared to her natural look in her younger years
Some private practices say the repair business is nearly as big as having cosmetic surgery in the first place.
Christopher Inglefield, a London plastic surgeon, said he is currently seeing 20 patients who are undergoing continuing treatment to remove lumps of filler which have 'migrated' around their bodies.
And Barry Jones, one of London's top specialists, who has done a number of celebrity facelifts, says he has seen three such cases in only the past few weeks.
'Standards of behaviour in the cosmetic surgery industry have deteriorated,' he says. 'I am not at all comfortable about it. Everyone is out for money. Some of these fillers are very good indeed, but you have to know what you're doing. With others, however, it is impossible to know what is happening or exactly where you are putting them.'
A spokesman for the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency admitted that they had no jurisdiction over cosmetic fillers.
'We check they have a CE mark which means they conform with European standards for that product area, and we check on the bodies awarding CE marks, but that is all we are required to do,' she said.
'Standards of behaviour in the cosmetic surgery industry have deteriorated... everyone is out for money.'
_________TOP PLASTIC SURGEON____
The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) advises people against so-called permanent fillers, and has embarked on a series of discussions about how to help consumers avoid harm.
Its secretary, Rajiv Grover, who is himself a senior consultant plastic surgeon, advises people to check on the BAAPS website, or the British Association of Cosmetic Doctors website, which have lists of suitably qualified people.
'At the moment there are not only plastic surgeons, dermatologists, cosmetic doctors, but dentists, nurses and a grey area of beauty therapists and other people, who are said to be qualified to do this,' he said.
He also recommends that if people do want to have fillers in the their faces, they should opt for Restylane, Juvaderm or Sculptra, all temporary fillers approved by the FDA. 'I don't think it's good enough to rely simply on CE marks which are supposed to show that a product is safe.
'For a company to get one of those, they might only have tested the compound on 20 people, and for entirely different purposes.'
So far, the Consumers Association is the only organisation to embark on any sort of public effort to halt the march of the filler trade. Its health campaigner, Jenny Driscoll, said that people wrongly believe that because the use of such products is connected with healthcare, there will be some kind of regulatory safety net.
'We are advising people to do their homework before they undergo this treatment. As everyone is finding, practitioners may have little or no medical experience; products on offer may never have been fully tested, and there is often little comeback.'
From her depressing experiences, Karon Kitchener is convinced the number of people who report damage from cosmetic fillers is only a fraction of the true number.
'Lots of affected people feel silly that they allowed vanity to lure them into something so dangerous, so they don't want to tell anyone when it goes wrong,' she said. 'I want to warn others about this. I think it's an absolute disgrace that those causing these disasters are being allowed to get away with it.'
I tried to turn back time with a wrinkle jab... but it wrecked my life and left me facially disfigured | Mail Online