Pumping Parties: A Dangerous Trend in Cosmetic Surgery

Cosmetic surgery has the potential to drastically improve life for many patients. Whether it’s breast implants, abdominoplasty (tummy tuck), or a little injection here and there to hide wrinkles, cosmetic procedures are more advanced and provide an opportunity to get the figure or face we want.

But a dangerous trend – called Pumping Parties – has emerged and is tempting women to engage in unsafe cosmetic procedures in their home. These procedures are performed by untrained, unlicensed practitioners referred to as “pumpers”.

How Pumping Parties Work

Pumping parties offer an inexpensive opportunity to enhance certain parts of the body — most commonly the posterior, legs, calves, and breasts — with silicone injections. Groups of people, often women, may pool their money and hire the services of someone who can inject them with silicone. The parties usually take place in someone’s home or at a hotel.

While patients may believe they are being injected with medical-grade silicone, Thomas Flanigan, MD, of ProMedica Physicians Plastic Surgery notes that medical silicone is not legally permitted in the United States. Even through the black market, it would be very unusual for these “pumpers” to gain access to medical-grade silicone from Canada or Mexico.

So what are these unlicensed practitioners using? “Most of the time we believe they just get this from Lowe’s or Home Depot,” says Dr. Flanigan. “This silicone is used for sealing tubs, usually on tiles or around windows. It’s silicone caulking and they’re injecting that material into your body.”

Dr. Flanigan says that many patients notice good results at the beginning. When the silicone is injected, it triggers an inflammatory reaction that causes the tissues to swell. Initially, it looks like a plump booty or enlarged breasts. Over the course of months, however, the body tries to wall off or reject the foreign substance, the swelling goes down and patients are left with hard masses or lumps on the body. It becomes difficult to sit or lay down and is hard to move around.

The Dangers

“There are a number of complications that can occur from these injections,” advises Dr. Flanigan.

If injected in the muscle, it can cause pain and damage to the body’s tissue. Sometimes it will cause infection. If you get it too close to the blood supply of the muscle it can even cause death of the muscle. If injected in the subcutaneous tissue, it will not allow the overlying skin to survive. If injected into a blood vessel, the silicone may be dispersed throughout the entire body and, similar to a blood clot, cause a heart attack or stroke which could lead to death.

Removing the silicone can require multiple surgeries. Once removed, the silicone leaves cavities in the body, resulting in relative disfigurement. Ultimately, these cavities fill with fluid and eventually scar tissue.

Patients who have suffered the effects of the injections say the ordeal can be embarrassing and it often deters them from seeking medical assistance quickly, causing problems to grow more severe. Sharing their story publicly often results in shaming and ridicule, especially on social media. Many of these women also have difficulty finding closure. These pumpers take advantage of clients by operating secretly and then disappearing. Unless caught, they face no consequences for the health and safety risk they pose by these injections.

The Safe Way

Dr. Flanigan suggests these steps for safe and reliable cosmetic procedures:

  • Have the procedure done in an approved clinical environment. This will help you ensure that emergency medical assistance is readily available if needed, that instruments are sterile and that the injectables or implants are legally approved and medical grade. Never have a cosmetic procedure performed at home.
  • Have the procedure performed by a board-certified plastic surgeon. According to the American Board of Plastic Surgery, a board-certified plastic surgeon has graduated from an accredited medical school; has completed at least five years of additional training as a resident surgeon in an accredited program, including at least two years devoted entirely to plastic surgery; and has passed comprehensive written and oral exams. The board also provides an online tool to see if your surgeon is board-certified.
  • Be realistic about expectations. Cosmetic surgery can change parts of the body, but it can’t necessarily change your life. Be sure your goals can be achieved by altering your appearance before engaging in surgical procedures.

Have you heard of dangerous trends in cosmetic surgery? Share your thoughts in the comments below.