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How Social Media and Selfies Are Reshaping the Future of Cosmetic Treatments

June 5, 2017, 5:50 PM UTC
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“I wish injectables were treated more like makeup,” Khloe Kardashian told Glamour last year. “I’m allowed to contour my face…I’m overdrawing my lips, and nobody really says that’s crazy.”

Kardashian didn’t make this pronouncement in a vacuum. (Ok, that’s an understatement—she spoke to Glamour as a spokesperson for Kybella, an FDA-approved injectable for getting rid of unwanted chin fat.) But #sponcon aside, the sentiment is clearly shared by many of her fellow millennials. And it’s already having major implications for the cosmetic industry.

From 2000 to 2016, the number of cosmetic surgical procedures fell by 6%, while cosmetic minimally invasive procedures rose a whopping 180%, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

Kybella falls into the later category. Made by Allergan and approved by the FDA in 2015, the treatment is a synthetic version of deoxycholic acid, which the body uses to break down fat. For now, the liquid is exclusively injected under the jaw—it’s marketed as a miracle double-chin buster. But Allergan’s ambitions for the drug extend beyond the face. According to the Star Tribune, the company is testing Kybella in other areas of the body, including the “fat above the knees.”

By this point, the jerk reaction to any new and potentially troubling trend is to blame it on social media. The rise of new, relatively quick cosmetic procedures is no exception. “Selfie culture is a huge driver for procedures like Kybella,” Adam Lokeh, a plastic surgeon, told the Star Tribune.

In this instance, however, the the man might have a point. “When in history have we taken so many photos of ourselves?” he continued. “People recognize the angles they look better in and they’re constantly reminded of the flaws that bother them…you’ll start seeing more and more young people getting treatments like this.”

Kardashian’s overall attempt to destigmatize a vetted procedure that can improve confidence and quality of life is well-intentioned (even if she was paid to do it). But that doesn’t mean we should treat all injectables “like makeup,” as she urges. Kybella might be more affordable and less risky than surgical cosmetic options, but that doesn’t mean it’s cheap or side-effect free (a standard course of treatment runs costs more than $5,000 and, while rare, can lead to long-term nerve damage.) Unlike a sloppy cat-eye, the effects aren’t reversible.

Later on in that same Glamour interview, Kardashian casually recounts a filler treatment gone wrong: “My friend was like, ‘You have to, it’s not a big deal.’ And so, of course, I was the 1 percent who didn’t react well to it, so I had to dissolve it all.”

Not life-threatening—but not much like makeup, either.