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Presidential scandal puts 'functional injections' at center of debate
  • By Marian Chu
  • Published 2017.03.17 18:33
  • Updated 2017.03.20 11:05
  • comments 0

“Cinderella injection,” “lily-white shot,” “garlic jab,” “placenta needle,” and “licorice hypo.”

These are the nicknames of the so-called “functional injections” given by some unidentified “ajumma” (Korean for middle-aged women) to Park Geun-hye to make the ousted former President appear younger and prettier.

There had long been debates, however, whether and how much these intravenous shots are effective and safe.

It is against this backdrop related medical organizations held a workshop on the efficacy, safety, and management of the off-label cosmetic injections at Seoul National University Hospital Tuesday.

Experts debate the use of off-label cosmetic injections during a workshop at Seoul National University Hospital on Tuesday.

Former President Park was not alone in resorting to these injections. More than 10 million procedures are performed a year, and among its beneficiaries are Beyonce and Kim Kardashian.

The global market for cosmetic injections has steadily increased since 2009, prompting doctors, researchers and even ordinary people to examine its efficacy and safety of these facial injections, said Silvia Park, a researcher at Korea Institute of Health and Social Affairs.

Source: 2014 GBI Research by Kim Su-beom

Koreans, in particular, have gotten these injections in large numbers recently, and even more so after they learned the impeached president used to have a variety of cosmetic fillers, such as Botox and other shots. Korea is No. 1 regarding cosmetic injections administered with an average of 10.7 people out of 1,000 getting them.

*Population is based on 2014 OECD statistics. Exceptions are Brazil (2012) and Japan, Mexico, Germany, and Columbia (2013).Source: ISAPS 2015

Many different types of facial injections exist in Korea. The most popular injections are Botox, hyaluronic acid (“water shine” injection), thioctic acid (Cinderella injection), glutathione (“Beyonce injection”), Hominis placenta (placenta injection), and fursultiamine (“garlic injection”).

Problems have arisen regarding these uninsured cosmetic procedures because of their off-label use, using approved medical products differently from their designated purposes. Off-label use can create unintended side-effects, causing more harm than good. None is there sufficient clinical evidence that these injections are effective cosmetically or safe.

For example, the placenta injection, authorized by the government, is intended to improve the symptoms of menopause and chronic liver pain. However, most people are using them for cosmetic purposes, and some doctors have even gone further to advertise them.

Because most of these medical injections are uninsured, little regulations exist, making off-label use hard to track and regulate, Park said.

The elderly, plastic surgery patients, people dealing with stress and fatigue, and even children are using these injections because they are relatively cheaper, temporary, accessible, and quick compared to cosmetic surgery or other medications.

Increased women consumer power, investment in appearance, longer life, demanding and stressful work life also contributed to increasing in their off-label use, she added.

Professor Myung Seung-won, one of the speakers, harshly criticized the ongoing trend stressing the need for evidence-based treatment. Evidence-based treatment, he said, is the foundation of scientific medicine, noting that clinical trials regarding the use of these cosmetic injections have been insufficient.

“Part of the problem is structural in nature,” he said. “Doctors do not make enough money from treating patients because of the national health insurance system, and therefore, resort to off-label treatment as a source of revenue.”

Choi Sei-hwan (center), neurologist and vice-chairman of the Korean Association of Neurological Surgeons, talks about the effectiveness of medical injections.

Some experts saw it differently. Choi Sei-hwan said he believes that medical injections are better than medication because it protects the liver, adding that their effectiveness is 25 times higher than oral medication, as shown by the test of Vitamin C injections.

“Clinical trials often take years, letting patients suffer in the process,” he said. “These test findings are not the cure-all, which is why I support these injections as long as they are.”

Most participants agreed the problem is both structural and ethical, requiring more discussions to reach a consensus among the government, doctors, and consumers.


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