Lush lip shots trigger FDA note of caution

July 10, 1991|By Pat Morgan | Pat Morgan,Knight-Ridder Newspapers

Just in case deciding whether to tan hasn't given us enough skin-related beauty dilemmas:

The Food and Drug Administration recently told a congressional subcommittee that it is investigating the use of collagen for lip enhancement, any use of liquid silicone injections, and the use and promotion of Retin-A for wrinkle reduction.

Should we be concerned? You bet those newly lush lips we should.

The FDA has approved the use of injectible collagen (extracted from cowhide) for acne scars, but not for lip augmentation.

Collagen Corp. has been treating wrinkles with the stuff for years. More recently, it's been used to fluff up lips, so those of us who want Julia Roberts' puffy pout can simply buy it.

However, doctors say collagen eventually will be absorbed by the body. Then the lips revert to their normal size, unless the owner of those lips continues the expensive treatments every few months.

Apparently, it's OK to inject collagen around the border of the lip (popularly referred to as the Paris Lip) but not directly into the lips.

In Paris for the fashion shows almost a year ago, I was invited to a Paris Lip demonstration.

I got as close as possible hey, I'm as curious as the next person and my lips are skinny, all right? It looked to me like that woman was in serious pain: bleeding lips, tears falling from her eyes, unable to speak for several hours. Plus, her lips didn't look all that different.

Also, the doctor admitted that continued treatment could cause a loss of sensation in the lips and even hardening around the lips' border.

L Which sounds to me like kissing would be decidedly less fun.

The FDA has not approved the use of liquid silicone for any reason. Regulators have, in fact, indicated their desire to re-examine the use of silicone gel implants, the stuff that gives all those fashion models perfectly perky breasts. This comes after reports of immune disorders, pain and infections.

Are bigger boobs really worth even the smallest risk that you could end up with crippling arthritis, as did one young woman who testified before the committee?

Twenty years ago, the FDA approved the use of Retin-A to treat acne. About five years ago, doctors noticed that the cream also seemed to reduce wrinkles.

Johnson & Johnson, which sells Retin-A through its Ortho Pharmaceutical subsidiary, started promoting the cream as an anti-aging miracle.

Under federal law, drug companies can't promote drugs for uses other than those approved by the FDA, although doctors have been free to prescribe drugs for what is called "off-label" uses.

The FDA says long-term use of Retin-A for wrinkle-reduction hasn't been proven safe and that it may, in fact, actually increase the risk of skin cancer.

There is particular irony in this.

Retin-A, no matter what condition it is used to treat, usually causes the skin to become intensely irritated and to flake and peel. It also makes the skin extremely sun-sensitive. Dermatologists tell patients to stay out of the sun while using the cream and to use a high SPF sunscreen when they must be exposed to sunlight.

Staying out of the sun and using a sunscreen is good; it helps reduce the risk of skin cancer. But now the FDA says that Retin-A, the reason some people began using sunscreen in the first place, may actually increase the risk of skin cancer.

So who's the bad guy?

My vote goes to Ponce de Leon, who first went searching for the fountain of youth in 1513.

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