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Hydrogel is used for a variety of applications in a range of fields, including medicine, food production, and agriculture. The gels are most commonly known, however, for being a component in plastic surgery. Hydrogel injections are used as soft tissue fillers in the face, lips, and buttocks to increase their size and make them more aesthetically pleasing.
Products like Juvederm® and Restalyne® are common forms of hydrogels used in plastic surgery. Surgeons inject these products into the face as an antiaging treatment. The gels fill out the contours of the face, reducing wrinkles and making the skin appear firmer and younger. Doctors also inject the gel into the lips, making them plumper and creating the popular "bee-stung" look. These products use hyaluronic acid in the hydrogel substrate to achieve this look.
Perhaps the most well-known, and controversial, use for hydrogel injections is for injection into the buttocks. These injections use a hydrogel combined with polyacrylamide as a temporary, noninvasive treatment. This procedure is not approved for use in the United States but is available elsewhere, such as in Central and South America. Hydrogel kits can even be purchased on the Internet and injected at home.
The procedure, when carried out in a clinic, usually takes only a couple of hours. After a consultation, the area to be filled is marked on the body, providing a guideline for the clinician. A small incision is then made at the injection site, and the clinician inserts the hydrogel just above the muscle. The practitioner injects the same site repeatedly and then massages the buttocks in order to distribute the hydrogel injections evenly and achieve the desired shape.
They then wrap a compression bandage around the buttocks to help reduce swelling. Recovery time for hydrogel injections is relatively short, usually a matter of a few days. It may take more than one treatment to achieve the desired shape and fullness, however, and treatments can be quite expensive.
Like most cosmetic procedures, there are side effects to hydrogel treatments. These include swelling, a slight rise in temperature, and uneven deformity of the buttocks. Side effects are usually temporary, subsiding within a few days. Sometimes, however, damage from the injections, if not properly applied, can result in permanent deformity. Granulations, consisting of hard lumps of scar tissue, can also be caused by abnormal healing.
The greatest risk of hydrogel injections is if they are bought or administered from a disreputable source. These injections can provide a substantial health risk as the ingredients of the filler are unregulated and may contain any type of inferior material. This can result in both permanent disfigurement and toxicity. A lack of sterile environment is also an issue, resulting in infections that can be life threatening.