The 'Love Island' effect spurs debate about cosmetic enhancements and their downsides

In the United Kingdom, the “'Love Island' effect” has influenced young women to get cosmetic enhancements — and this year, U.S. viewers are noticing.

The popular U.K. reality show “Love Island” returned in early June for its 11th season, and with it has come a renewed wave of concern about the ubiquity and safety of cosmetic procedures and their use by young women.

The show brings together dozens of contestants — or “islanders” — looking for love, friendship and drama, and its associated “‘Love Island’ effect” has for years been the subject of scrutiny for the influence it has on younger viewers, who are known to seek out cosmetic procedures in an effort to chase the aesthetic of the show’s cast.

Speculation around cast members’ appearance and their beauty regimens has become a big part of how many fans engage with the show. However, this year’s female contestants have drawn a particularly strong reaction on social media. Some have said the young women have gone too far in embracing injectables like Botox and dermal filler, which have now become ubiquitous in the U.K.

“Plastic surgery and injectables done incorrectly can make you look older,” said Dr. Daniel Barrett, who appeared in a video for his TikTok account in which he guessed four of the contestants’ ages. He estimated that each of them was over the age of 32, when in reality they are all between 24 and 26. The video has gotten over 11 million views and thousands of comments, many debating the aging effect of filler, Botox and other injectables meant to enhance the face.

A multidecade boom in cosmetic procedures starting in the 1990s has in recent years grown to include young people, boosted in part by social media that has normalized the use of fillers and Botox to address small imperfections. That has also led some people to embrace transparency around the use of cosmetic procedures in pursuit of modern beauty standards.

The Love Island UK cast starting off Series 11. (ITV)
The Love Island UK cast starting off Series 11. (ITV)

But with that transparency has come an openness to speculating about who has done what to their body, leaving many women to feel they are caught in the middle: scrutinized both for how they look and for the work they’ve had done. Kylie Jenner, a reality star known for popularizing full lips achieved with filler, recently spoke out against "hurtful" comments she has received about plastic surgery she underwent in the past. Jenner began dissolving some of her facial fillers last year.

“There is really a horrible unrealistic expectation of women that you need to look perfect but you need to look perfect naturally,” said Sharon Gaffka, who competed in the seventh season of “Love Island” in 2021.

Most of the cast members have not publicly discussed the topic, but Samantha Kenny, who was featured in Barrett’s video and was recently eliminated from the show, revealed in an interview with the Mirror that she had gotten Botox and a facial ahead of the season.

Gaffka said she was upset when she discovered the “Love Island” effect because she felt like she contributed to a “cycle of behavior” that pressured young women to get cosmetic enhancements. She said the experience “forced me down a path of rediscovery of myself and what I look like.”

“I had these procedures, went on to ‘Love Island,’ and then was making another young woman feel like she needed these procedures in order to be deemed attractive,” she said.

The topic is particularly urgent in the U.K., which has more lax regulations on nonsurgical cosmetic procedures than the U.S.

Ashton Collins, director of Save Face, a U.K.-based government-approved registry for cosmetic practitioners, said practitioners don’t need medical training to perform these cosmetic procedures. She said they can take a one- or two-day training course, acquire unlicensed filler products and begin injecting patients in less than a week.

“The aesthetic market here for Botox and fillers is nearly completely unregulated, and anybody can do these treatments from anywhere,” Collins said.

Gaffka said injectables are often called “tweakments” in the U.K., which she said makes them seem like low-stakes procedures that are as casual as “getting your nails done.” She has been open about her own experience getting and dissolving lip filler.

“Getting lip filler or any filler should be taken as seriously as going to get a boob job, because there are serious consequences if something goes wrong,” she said.

Sharon King, vice chair of the British Association of Cosmetic Nurses, said there is some movement in the government to regulate and improve the quality of nonsurgical cosmetic procedures.

She pointed to efforts to create a better standard for assessing injectable products such as filler through the U.K.’s Conformity Assessment labeling. King also said there is a push for a regulated licensing scheme that will ensure injectors are properly trained.

“We’re in the throes of a general election to elect a new government, so that’s going to have some bearing as well,” King said. “At the moment, everything’s kind of on the back burner, but we’re hoping that we’re going to know more about this legislation that is coming.”

Some social media users wondered if the criticism around cosmetic procedures stemming from this year’s “Love Island” cast would encourage young women to embrace a more “natural” look. One X user called this season “the best anti filler advert I’ve ever seen.”

Gaffka and Collins said people should be able to undergo the procedures that make them feel happy and confident. However, it’s important that people are educated about what the potential risks of cosmetic enhancements are, what qualifications their injector has to perform certain procedures, and what is in their filler.

Gaffka cautioned viewers to be mindful of their comments, which one TikTok user described as “incredibly brutal” toward the cast members’ appearances. “Love Island” has come under fire over the years for its lack of support for its islanders following the deaths of two former contestants by suicide.

“We know how hard it can be, like the mental health of ‘Love Islanders’ can be quite difficult when they first come out of the show,” Gaffka said. “I think that people really need to remember some of the horrible things that have happened in the past when they’re talking about people.”