Revealed: Five potential killer beauty treatments

Society of Hospital Pharmacists identifies five potentially lethal treatments after death of woman who signed up for therapy

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 November, 2012, 12:11pm

Glutathione, platelet-rich plasma and phosphatidylcholine are hardly household names. But they are all being promoted by Hong Kong beauty salons for their alleged whitening, slimming or beautifying properties.

However, Hong Kong pharmacists, who have conducted a study into beauty treatments after one woman died, say many of the services on offer, apart from being dangerous, lack clinical evidence to back up their claims.

The Society of Hospital Pharmacists says it investigated the claims made by 15 beauty companies and identified five treatments with alleged beneficial effects that were not supported by clinical evidence,

Most dangerous of the five, the society said, were "platelet-rich plasma" injections (PRP), which involve drawing blood from a person, processing it and then re-injecting it into the body. It has been offered by six beauty companies, which claim it can rejuvenate the skin.

Society president William Chui Chun-ming said the treatment "involves a lot of procedures that should be carried out in a clean-room [sterile] environment."

The government has said that guidelines setting out those risky medical treatments that beauty centres should not be offering should be ready by the middle of next year, after a review prompted by the death of one beauty salon client. Chan Yuen-lam, 46, died in October while three other women all became seriously ill after contracting a rare superbug and had to be hospitalised.

The victims suffered septic shock after receiving a treatment known as "blood transfusion health therapy" at DR beauty centres.

Chui said PRP treatments could be deadly, as there was risk of contamination during the blood's processing. Many centres have stopped offering PRP since the death.

Three other procedures singled out in the survey are injections of vitamin C, vitamin E or glutathione, which beauty centres claim have antioxidant, whitening, spot-clearing and de-wrinkling effects.

The society said the safety of vitamin E or glutathione was not guaranteed, as the medical profession rarely used them in injections.

Authorities in the Philippines have warned against glutathione jabs, after one patient suffered kidney failure. Excessive intake of vitamin C or E could also harm the kidney and liver, the society said.

The society also highlighted treatments using injections of phosphatidylcholine, a substance found in body membranes and egg yolk, injections of which were claimed to be a slimming aid as well as a way to eliminate under-eye bags. Although phosphatidylcholine could reduce fat concentration in a limited area, it could not help obese people shed their weight and did not reduce eye bags, the society said.


There is a lack of clinical evidence that these beauty treatments are effective. If mishandled, they may cause the following side effects:

  • Vitamin C whitening - diarrhoea, kidney stones
  • Vitamin E whitening - headache, increased cholesterol, liver damage
  • Glutathione whitening - a patient in the Philippines suffered kidney failure after treatment
  • Platelet-rich plasma rejuvenating treatment - serious infections and deadly blood clots
  • Phosphatidylcholine slimming or eye-bag removal - muscle tiredness, rashes, spasms, scars

Source: The Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Hong Kong