woman on bench with prostetic legs (Photo: Kawai Matthews)

The first sign something was wrong came when Apryl Michelle Brown couldn't stop itching. Feverishly scratching her buttocks provided some relief, but Brown soon started to feel a throbbing sensation in her posterior. Confused and anxious, she Googled "silicone butt injections."

Eyes fixed on the screen, Brown clicked on a site featuring testimonials of women suffering from the same painful itching, their bodies deformed by lumps of silicone. "They were horror stories," says Brown, a Los Angeles cosmetologist. "I knew I was in trouble." But she says, "I had no idea it was going to be this much trouble."

Two years earlier in 2004, Brown says she paid a "pumper," an unlicensed person, to inject industrial-grade silicone into her buttocks. By early 2006 she says the silicone had hardened, causing severe pain and infection, ultimately requiring her to have lifesaving amputation of her limbs last year. Now adjusting to her new life with prosthetics, Brown, 46, is sharing her story to warn other women about the risks of resorting to back-alley cosmetic procedures.

As the fifth of six children, Brown says she was teased by family and friends about her flat "pancake" booty, resulting in lifelong insecurity. She vowed early on that the moment she could get enough money, she'd buy herself a better backside. "I didn't know if I wanted to look like Janet Jackson or J.Lo," Brown says. "I just wanted a new, bigger booty."

Getting an A-list physique is just one reason behind the rise in "pumping parties," where silicone, often mixed with other substances, is injected into buttocks, breasts or lips, experts say. The attention focused on celebrities with bountiful backsides—from Kim Kardashian to Nicki Minaj—possibly fuels the demand. And the quest to build a bigger butt has become big business. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgery (ASPS), the number of legitimate buttock implantations, which cost up to $15,000, rose by 43 percent between 2010 and 2011. There is no data on the number of illegal silicone butt injections, but anecdotal evidence suggests the bad economy may have led many people to try these injections, says Malcolm Z. Roth, M.D., president of the ASPS. Butt injections, which can range from $300 to $1,000, are a less costly alternative to implantation. But they're far from safe.
"People look at them as cheap, easy and not life-threatening," Roth says. "But that's not the case at all."

Last year, 20-year-old Claudia Aderotimi died of heart failure after receiving butt injections at a Philadelphia hotel. In 2011 a Baltimore dancer was rushed to the hospital after receiving a series of injections to her butt and hips. Silicone was found in her lungs. In July, Oneal Ron Morris, a transgendered Florida woman, was arrested and could face charges of manslaughter for allegedly injecting super glue, bathroom caulk and Fix-A-Flat into a 31-year-old mother who died last year. Morris's lawyer, Michael Mirer, says his client intends to plead not guilty.

But injecting silicone is hardly new. As far back as World War II, silicone shots were used to boost bustlines, predating today's implants. In 1992 the FDA banned liquid injectable silicone, and today board-certified plastic surgeons won't inject silicone into any body part. Instead, for those looking to enhance their rear view, buttock implants and fat transfers are the only doctor-approved procedures.