The first time Elizabeth Chambers tried Profhilo, she didn’t care that what she was about to have injected into her face wasn’t legal in the U.S. All she cared about was that she’d gone months without any dermatological treatments, and “oh my gosh, I cannot emerge from COVID without first getting some skin care,” she says.
Chambers, a TV host and founder of BIRD Bakery, had moved to the Cayman Islands with her two kids during COVID. “I went through some personal things,” she says, referring subtly to her divorce from Call Me by Your Name actor Armie Hammer. “There’s no paparazzi here, and we basically ended up staying.”
In the Caymans, Chambers no longer had access to the platelet-rich plasma (a.k.a. the vampire facial) injections she’d regularly done in L.A. to smooth and plump her skin.
Her neighbor, Dr. Maeve O’Doherty, who moved to the Caymans from Ireland and specializes in plastic surgery around the eyelids, gave her another option: “What you really need to know about is Profhilo,” she said. Dr. O’Doherty had been injecting herself with Profhilo for about a year and a half.
Profhilo is injected very superficially, two or three millimeters into the skin, but it’s not botulinum toxin like Botox or Dysport, which smooth wrinkles, or a filler like Juvederm or Restylane, which add volume to your face. It’s part of an emerging group of injectables referred to as “skin boosters,” which, after being injected, expand under the skin to make your face look extra moisturized and fresh. They’re made of non-cross-linked hyaluronic acid, which helps your skin retain moisture and occurs naturally in the body, but decreases in level as you age. Chambers compares Profhilo to “doing a very intensive hydrating and clarifying mask on the inside.” (Fillers are also made of hyaluronic acid, but the hyaluronic acid is cross-linked so it stays in place and adds volume to the face.)
At first, Dr. O’Doherty says, “I was skeptical that a product could travel from one point of injection to spread out under the skin,” but she found that it did seem to move from the ten points on her face she’d been directed to inject into (five on each side). Her skin glowed. “It makes you look like you’ve gotten sleep when you haven’t,” she says.
Chambers is even more effusive. “I’ve never been happier with my skin than I am right now,” she says, “and I think that a lot of that is Profhilo.”
She doesn’t care that it’s not FDA approved and is not available in the U.S. because of that. “I think it’s literally incredible,” she says. “I will always do it.” Chambers promoted Profhilo on Instagram and advised others to leave the country to get it, too.
“Book your holiday flights to the U.K., Paris, Cayman, etc.,” she wrote.
Some women already have. In response to Chambers’s post, a prominent New York socialite DM’d her to say that she gets Profhilo too. “What do you think I do right before Paris Fashion Week?” she wrote. “Why do you think I’m at my home in Paris early?”
“Skin boosters are all the rage in Europe,” says Mary Lupo, a board-certified dermatologist and clinical professor of dermatology at Tulane University School of Medicine, who, along with other American dermatologists, says that the boosters will eventually be approved by by the FDA and arrive in the U.S., although the timeline is unclear. For the FDA to approve any injectable, it needs to be found both safe and effective, a lengthy, pricey process. “Everything is more expensive in the United States,” Dr. Lupo says. “The companies want to make sure their product is worth investing in, so they usually test it in Europe, the Middle East, South Korea, India, and South America. They go to those markets first and get some real-world results, making sure that’s okay, making sure doctors like it before they’re going to invest the money in the United States.” In addition to Profhilo, dermatologists said companies like MERZ, Allergan, and Revance are also developing skin boosters. “Lots of my U.S. clients fly to Grand Cayman to have Profhilo with me,” says Dr. Imogen Bexfield, who runs an aesthetics clinic there. “It’s the closest place they can access it. They will specifically make sure they plan their trips to coincide with when their Profhilo is due.” The first time you get Profhilo, you’re supposed to do two treatments one month apart, then repeat the injections every four to six months after that. Made by an Italian pharmaceutical company, IBSA Farmaceutici, Profhilo debuted in Europe in 2015. It has become more widely known internationally in the last few years and is only at the beginning of its FDA-approval process.
“We didn’t approach the FDA until now,” says Tania Pirazzini, head of dermoaesthetic division at IBSA Farmaceutici, “but of course our plan is to be in the U.S. sooner than later.”
Devotees include Americans who’ve tried it while abroad. MaryAnne Travers, who splits her time between Aspen, New York City, London, and Grand Cayman, heard about Profhilo from Dr. Bexfield in the Cayman Islands. Travers had Profhilo injected a week before attending a giant New Year’s Eve party. “It’s definitely noticeable,” she says. “There’s a big difference. You get that fullness back in your cheeks. It’s just sort of youthful.” Her guests commented on her skin, “Oh my god, what’s happened?” She was pleased, but didn’t tell them about Profhilo. “You don’t say anything,” she says. “You say, ‘What do you mean, I always look this wonderful.’ ”
Dr. Bexfield says skin boosters fit in with the changing philosophy of injectables. “We are really moving against just pumping someone up and filling them up to the brim,” she says. “With Profhilo, you do get a lovely lifting effect, a glowy hydrated appearance to the skin, but you cannot look overdone.”
At the same time, because it’s not a targeted treatment, she wouldn’t suggest it to someone who, say, wants a line filled in.
Valerie Monroe, the former beauty director of O, The Oprah Magazine and contributor to the Cut who writes a Substack called How Not to F*ck Up Your Face, isn’t anti-injectables, but says there’s always a risk of an infection or allergic reaction that comes with sticking a needle in your face and that the subtle effect you might get from a skin booster isn’t always worth it, so it’s wise to be very judicious. “I don’t think it would necessarily be good for [you] or even useful,” she says of Profhilo and other skin boosters. She also doesn’t like how they seem to be aimed at younger women. “They keep saying that it’s not a filler, so it’s just something that’s gonna give you a glow or brighten your complexion,” she says, “And I’m thinking, If you’re young, why do you need that?”
There are side effects, such as the temporary bumps Chambers gets at the ten spots on her face where the drug was injected, but she doesn’t hide out when she has them. “I don’t have the luxury,” she says. “Once I went to my daughter’s horseback-riding lesson, and it was like, Oh my God, did you just get stung by a swarm of bees?”
Taylor More, who moved to the Cayman Islands from Scottsdale, Arizona, and lives in the same building as Chambers, first learned about Profhilo when she saw Chambers’s bumps post-treatment while the two were sheltering during a hurricane. When she asked her about them, Chambers convinced her to try Profhilo. “She’s gorgeous,” More says, “so I said, ‘Anything you do, I’m going to do.’”
Immediately after her injections, however, More had lots of lumps in her face. Panicked, she called Chambers: “‘My husband thinks I have filler cheeks.’” Chambers reassured her: “I promise it’s gonna go down.” Around 48 hours later, the bumps disappeared, and even though More didn’t notice a big change in her skin, she signed up for a second treatment, which was done a month later. After that one, “my skin looked so plump and dewy,” More says. “We don’t have Amazon here, but we do have Profhilo.”
Recently, Chambers started having Profhilo injected into her neck to attempt to hydrate and improve the quality of the skin there, a treatment that led to the biggest post-procedure lump she’d had. “I had a goiter on my neck,” she says. She freaked out and sent a ton of pictures to her injector, asking, “Is this normal?” It was. The lump went down, but still, on her next visit, her injector avoided the spot. “You didn’t like the way it was,” she told Chambers.
“No, no, I liked it in the end,” Chambers responded. “Put it back in there. I can wear a scarf for two days.”