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The $1 billion-dollar cosmetic surgery industry has attracted unscrupulous operators out to make a quick buck – and the results are horrific.

By Elise Potaka

The $1 billion-dollar cosmetic surgery industry has attracted unscrupulous operators out to make a quick buck – and the results are horrific.

At another illegal clinic, the receptionist and practitioner describe how they import drugs in their luggage on international flights.

“Our Botox is from Korea. It can only be brought to Australia by person – if you post it, it will be confiscated. We can only get it through illegal channels.”

State and national health authorities have long been aware of these backyard beauty clinics. In the wake of a woman’s death after a procedure at the Medi Beauty salon in Sydney last August-September, NSW Health raided 10 clinics and seized drugs not approved for use in Australia.

To date, the clinic owners and drug suppliers have not been charged.

Registered doctors have also alerted health authorities.

“In Central Park Apartments, Chippendale Sydney, there is a Chinese national [...] who is administering fake Botox and fillers,” reads one complaint sent to regulators in March 2016.

“These clinics are not owned or operated by doctors licensed for this purposed, plus the products are copies from China.”

Some illegal practitioners are going as far as pretending to be registered doctors. The Feed’s investigation has uncovered a woman operating out of a fancy office block in Melbourne’s CBD, who has been using fake certificates and credentials to assure potential clients. As well as injectables and eyelid surgery, she offers breast fillers – the same procedure that the woman at the Medi Beauty salon was undergoing when she went into cardiac arrest.

When approached by The Feed, this fake doctor said, “We just do micro surgery, it's not a surgery actually.”

The spread of backyard clinics is part of a broader regulatory problem also facing Australia’s legitimate cosmetic surgery industry. Currently, anyone registered as a medical practitioner – from your local GP to your dentist – can call themselves a “cosmetic surgeon”. It doesn’t matter how much surgical training they have.

“People are going to hospital from unqualified people undertaking procedures. There are people who have died,” says Merrilyn Walton, a former NSW Health Care Complaints Commissioner.

Back in 1999, Walton chaired a NSW Committee of Inquiry into cosmetic surgery that called for a credentialing council for cosmetic surgeons. This recommendation has still not been put into action.

Meanwhile, it’s left to consumers to recognise the qualified cosmetic surgeons from those who are operating outside their area of expertise.

“He had a website that made him look glowingly brilliant,” says Michelle Burgess, who underwent breast enlargement surgery with former western Sydney GP, Les Blackstock. Last year, Blackstock had his license suspended after complaints to the regulators.

“They’re doing an investigation on him currently. But it's a little bit too late for all those many women that have suffered at the hands of this particular doctor,” says Michelle.

Merrilyn Walton believes national regulators need to revisit the i dea of an independent credentialing body, or at the least, take steps to give consumers objective advice about the skill-level needed for a particular procedure.

“Unless the governments around Australia come together to ensure that there are proper regulations in place, we will have more people die, we will have more people harmed, and it will become an industry that becomes impossible to regulate,” she told The Feed. 

Watch the full investigation here:




The Australasian College of Aesthetic Medicine (ACAM) is saddened and alarmed by the death of Ms Jean Huang on Friday 1st September, 2017.

ACAM is a body of medical practitioners trained to provide high quality cosmetic medical care. Our aims and objectives are to promote the education of Society members and other persons directly associated with Laser and Cosmetic Medicine activities, and to enhance general public awareness particular to the profession of Cosmetic Medicine.

Currently there is very poor oversight and regulation of the Cosmetic Medicine industry.  S4 medications such as lignocaine, botulinum toxin and dermal fillers are readily available in every street mall, despite the law stating they can only be supplied by a registered medical practitioner. There has been an issue with overseas trained doctors who are not registered with AHPRA claiming to be a "doctor" and performing cosmetic procedures, as has occurred in this instance.

Regulatory bodies, including ACAM, AHPRA, HCCC and the NSW Department of Heath need to work together to address the concerning issues in relation to  the regulation of practitioners and also the premises where these procedures are being performed.

ACAM supports:
1. Licensing and regulation of facilities providing cosmetic medicine procedures.

2. Ensuring that practitioners providing cosmetic medicine procedures are qualified and registered with AHPRA

For the standards prescribed by ACAM please visit our website:

For further information contact:
Dr Sharron Phillipson at the Australasian College of Aesthetic Medicine on 612 9929 2566/ mob 0412 402 669/ or details can be found on the website

Dr Sharron Phillipson
Australasian College of Aesthetic Medicine