A nurse practitioner who specializes in skincare procedures said she's noticed an uptick in online conversations about do-it-yourself at-home chemical peel treatments. In the past few weeks, she said she has seen more disturbing images of bad results than ever before.
Zoe Gazola, 35, who works at a clinic in NYC and has over 12 years of experience in medical skincare practices, has been sharing some of these results on Instagram to try to send the clear message to people to not try this at home.
"There has been an increase in incidents of people trying do-it-yourself medical treatments — especially now during quarantine," Gazola told BuzzFeed News.
"I’ve had a lot of women reach out to me asking for advice on what to do [after] they've bought illegal chemical peels online and on Amazon and stuff."
"They’re suffering third-degree burns," she said.
Gazola mostly uses social media to promote her cosmetic services. But occasionally, she'll receive urgent messages from people who've tried risky treatments at home after watching a YouTube video or joining a Facebook group offering unverified tutorials and advice, and now need serious medical attention.
In the Instagram images shown above, Gazola said she was sent the images from a third party who belonged to a closed Facebook group that "encourages women to DIY" treatments like peels and injectables, she said. Gazola has also secretly joined the group under a pseudonym to monitor their controversial activity.
At-home treatments and online products are nothing new. However, over the past few weeks, she's been seeing more experimenting and swapping of unprofessional advice within these groups. Some also are seemingly trying to handle their own complications instead of seeking professional treatment.
When she received the photo she posted to Instagram, she said she immediately recognized that the woman depicted in the photos had third-degree burns from purchasing trichloroacetic acid (TCA), or what's commonly used for cosmetic facial peels, at a dangerously high level.
"She had done an at-home 35% TCA peel. Thirty-five percent is extremely high and it’s dangerous. It could only be done by a doctor or nurse," she said, adding that she and others advise that anything over 30% be administered by a professional.
She speculated that the burns in the photo are a result of the acid being left on for too long and using too much of it. "It's improper care. That’s very severe," she said.
Gazola explained that a peel is essentially a "controlled chemical burn," which is why it's safest when done by someone who understands exactly how much to apply and for how long to prevent permanently damaging the skin or making it vulnerable to infection.
"There are a lot of assessment factors that play a role in determining the amount of chemical solution that you apply on the face," she said. "With each layer you apply, you go deeper in the skin. If you don’t know what you’re doing or what to look for, you will cause permanent damage."
Gazola is very concerned about the lack of regulations and ease of purchasing these products online, especially during these times.
"I don’t know if Amazon is aware about these things [and] I'm not sure about their regulations," she said. "I think that it's a big problem. I think a lot of vendors are from out of the country and they sell on Amazon under a different name to bypass certain criteria."
When reached, an Amazon spokesperson told BuzzFeed News they "have developed industry-leading tools" to help detect "suspicious, unsafe, or non-compliant products."
"We require all products offered in our store to comply with applicable laws and regulations and have developed industry-leading tools to prevent unsafe or non-compliant products from being listed in our stores," they said.
"Our tools use natural language processing and machine learning, which means new information is fed into our tools daily so it learns and gets better at proactively and automatically blocking suspicious offers."
Gazola said before the pandemic and sheltering-in-place orders, she saw many patients come into her office with burns so bad she sometimes had to send them to the ICU burn victims unit. Lately, she's seen more photos and inquiries online about scary results from DIY treatments, and she wants people to seriously reconsider and wait to do this in person at a credible clinic.
"I know a lot of people are really desperate to do everything and anything to be beautiful, to save a dollar. [But] it always, always, always costs triple the dollar amount to get something corrected," she said.
"A lot of times it’s permanent. It’s not worth the risk. People will complain and say, 'I got this peel for $30; why do you charge $200?' Well, you’re paying for 12 years of my education and safety. It's quality over quantity. That’s just the bottom line."