Northern Ireland

Illicit cross border trade in Botox and other non-surgical cosmetic products ongoing

Products sent from London picked up in Newry by undercover reporter

Bell’s palsy sufferers are sometimes left with long-term nerve damage, which may require surgery or Botox injections
Botulinum toxin, including the brand name, Botox, are being sold illicitly into the Irish market

An illicit cross border trade in Botox and similar products is ongoing, with unqualified practitioners able to source the cosmetic materials for the Irish market, an RTÉ investigation has revealed.

An undercover reporter posting as a beauty salon owner was able to pick up the products sent from England to a shop in Newry.

A vial of botox made by Allergan in Beverly Hills. Pfizer and Allergan have reached a $160 billion deal
Botox is one of the biggest brand names in the business of non-surgical cosmetic injections

“You can personally go to Newry, pick them up, and that way it doesn’t go through customs,” reporter Pamela Fraher was told in an audio message sent via Whatsapp by a London-based “prescriber”.

He added: “That’s it. End of story. You don’t have to pay duty because you put them in your bag and drive right across the border... no customs, no police there or nothing.”

Botox, the brand name for one popular type of botulinum toxin injection, and other similar non-surgical cosmetic products are prescription-only in the UK but there is no legislation around who can perform the procedure.

Ireland’s Health Products Regulatory Authority states doctors, dentists and registered nurses under the direction of medical doctors or dentists are permitted to inject botulinum toxin products.

The prescriber of the products, based in London, claimed he was sending 40-50 parcels a week into Ireland. The RTÉ investigation also found unlicensed products other than Botox were being moved into Ireland.

A UK-based supplier said he regularly transported large amounts of unlicensed products from South Korea into the country.

Ms Fraher, using the name ‘Jen’, the supposed owner of a beauty salon, said she picked up products from a “busy shop” in Newry.

“Months into the investigation, I had arrived at this point in my journey- a busy shop across the border, discreetly asking the girl behind the till if can I speak to either of the two names I was given by the ‘prescriber’,” she reported.

“She replied asking if I am ‘Jen’. I said yes, and in less than a minute, I was back out the door with my supplies.

“Once out of sight, I opened the package. Inside, there were bottles of botulinum toxin. I was also sold fat dissolving agents and dermal filler.”

“It’s just so wrong,” Kathy Maher, former president of the Irish Pharmacy Union, told RTÉ.

Kathy Maher, former head of the Irish Pharmacy Union
Kathy Maher, former head of the Irish Pharmacy Union

“Everything from he’s not a prescriber to how he obtains the product. It’s an unlicensed product. We don’t know what’s in it, we don’t know the standards by which it’s manufactured, we don’t know the dose, we don’t know anything about it,” she said.

“And then how he’s supplying it into the Irish supply chain is really shocking. He doesn’t have a wholesale licence, so he’s not legally allowed to supply it into Ireland… there’s no regard given to the end user, which is the patient.”

RTÉ Investigates: Botox & Beauty At Any Cost’ is on RTÉ One television at 9.35pm on Monday.