Weekend Botox Training: Shortcut to Cash or Risky Business?

Alok Patel, MD


August 01, 2023

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Alok S. Patel, MD: A friend recently joked with me and said, "I wish you were a dermatologist so you could hook me up with Botox and fillers." Well, little does this friend know that I could be a certified cosmetic injector just after a weekend course. Botox parties, here I come?

I can't blame any healthcare professional for having a side hustle. People are burned out, want to supplement their income, or scale back clinical hours. According to one Medscape survey, almost 40% of physicians do have some form of a side hustle, whether it is consulting, speaking engagements, being an expert witness, or moonlighting. I know plenty of doctors and nurses who have taken on Botox injecting as a way to make some extra cash.

Now, going back to me and smoothing out wrinkles. I'm a pediatric hospitalist. I've never injected an aesthetic product in anyone's face. When it comes to sharp objects and faces, I've sewn lacerations and drained abscesses. In my world, when we talk about botulinum toxin, we're usually talking about botulism or the therapeutic treatment of migraines and muscle spasms — pathology. But even still, how hard would it actually be for me to go out and get certified to give Botox?

The National Laser Institute has a 2-day Botox and dermal filler training. "Our 2-day Botox and filler course will also teach you how to build a practice and capitalize on the enormous Botox and dermal filler market that exists in the United States." That's a lot to cover in 2 days. They even have lunch breaks.

Just from a quick search, I even found an online video course for $1500. For an additional fee, you can have a live, hands-on component. There are so many trainings out there, including one that's only 8 hours long, offered by Empire Medical. I also went and spoke with an employee at Empire Medical who told me that because I'm an MD, if I do the course, I can use my certificate and go directly to a manufacturer, buy Botox, and start injecting right away.

Now, is this training actually sufficient for me to go and get good results while minimizing adverse effects like brow ptosis, dry eyes, and asymmetry? I have no idea. According to a review from the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, it's crucial to understand anatomic landmarks, muscle function, baseline asymmetry, potential migration of the toxin, and site-specific precautions.

Okay, that sounds really intimidating, but people still do it. I saw a Business Insider article about a hospitalist who took a 2-day Botox course and then, to her credit, she trained under supervision for an additional 6 months. She then started hosting Botox parties and each time was making $3500 to upwards of $20,000.

Let's do some quick mental math. If I were to go online and buy Botox for $3-$6 a unit and then charge patients $15 a unit, and then I consider that in areas like the forehead or in between the eyes — I read that could take 25-50 units — and I repeat this for multiple patients, I can make a few thousand dollars. Well, I may have to adjust my prices according to the market, obviously, because I did see some Groupons advertising $10 per unit.

Who can get in on some Botox cosmetic cash action? Well, physicians can right away. For other healthcare professionals, it depends on the state. For example, in California, dentists cannot get Botox solely for cosmetic purposes, whereas in Arizona, they can. Generally speaking, NPs and PAs require some type of physician oversight or supervision, but again, it depends on the state.

Oh, and fun fact: Connecticut outright banned Botox parties and said that Botox must be performed "in a medical spa or licensed health care facility and by a Connecticut-licensed health care provider within his or her scope of practice."

It definitely worries me that someone could go online or go overseas, buy Botox, claim to be a healthcare professional, and literally commit fraud. I found stories out there such as a couple in San Jose who are giving out Botox from their home without a license. They got arrested. Also, a woman in Alabama who lied about being a licensed dermatologist and did the same, or another woman in Los Angeles who got arrested after selling counterfeit Botox to undercover law enforcement. Surely, there are plenty more cases out there like this.

I asked Dr Jacqueline Watchmaker, a board-certified dermatologist who has an expertise in cosmetic procedures, what she thought about the booming med spa industry and what, if any, regulatory changes she wanted to see.

Jacqueline Watchmaker, MD: I do think the fact that people can just go to a 1- or 2-day injection course and inject filler and Botox is concerning. I think the lack of regulation surrounding this topic is also very concerning.

There's so much that goes into being a skilled injector. It's an intricate knowledge of facial anatomy, which takes weeks, if not months, to really master. There's actually injection technique, which can be very complex depending on the part of the face that you're injecting. Even more important, it's how to prevent complications, but also how to deal with complications if they do occur. There's no way that these weekend injection courses are able to cover those topics in a thorough and satisfactory manner.

I see complications from med spas all the time, and I think it's people going to injectors who are not skilled. They don't know their anatomy, they don't know the appropriate filler to use, and then heaven forbid there is a complication, they don't know how to manage the complication — and then those patients get sent to me.

I think patients sometimes forget that these cosmetic procedures are true medical procedures. You need sterile technique. Again, you need to know the anatomy. It can look easy on social media, but there's a large amount of thought behind it. I think there needs to be more regulation around this topic.

Patel: In one study, out of 400 people who received a cosmetic procedure, 50 reported an adverse event, such as discoloration or burns, and these adverse events were more likely to occur if a nonphysician was doing the procedure. Granted, this was a small study. You can't make a generalization out of it, but this does add to the argument that there needs to be more regulation and oversight.

Let's be real. The cosmetic injection side hustle is alive and well, but I'm good. I'm not going there. Maybe there should be some more quality control. At Botox parties, do people even ask if their injectors are certified or where they bought their vials?

You might be thinking that this isn't a big deal because it's just Botox. Let me ask you all a question: If you or your family member were going to go get Botox or another cosmetic injection, would it still not be a big deal? How would you vet your injector? Comment below.

Alok S. Patel, MD, is a pediatric hospitalist, television producer, media contributor, and digital health enthusiast. He splits his time between New York City and San Francisco, as he is on faculty at Columbia University/Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital and UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital. He hosts The Hospitalist Retort video blog on Medscape.

Jacqueline Watchmaker, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist who practices general and cosmetic dermatology at US Dermatology Partners in Arizona. She helps patients with all aspects of their skin, including rashes, skin cancers, acne, skin aging, and cosmetic procedures.

Follow Alok Patel on Twitter

Follow Medscape on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.