CHILDREN as young as 15 are turning to steroids and tanning agents in their quest for body perfection as social media and TV shows such as Love Island exert their influence.

The Instagram generation are increasingly trying to achieve quick-fix body enhancements, with hundreds now using image and performance-enhancing drugs (IPEDs) to try and achieve their body goals.

It comes in the wake of reality programmes such as Love Island which feature slim, tanned and toned young people, and which critics say provides an unrealistic idea of body image to its predominantly teenage audience.

Experts in Glasgow say they have seen a huge rise in the number of people looking for help and for clean injecting equipment over the last decade.

In 2010 the IPED clinic run by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC) had 64 registered IPED users. Last year, that number had risen to more than 3,300, with 469 under the age of 30 and predominantly using the drugs to enhance their looks.

The demand is so high that a second specialist steroid clinic has now opened in Edinburgh.

John Campbell, the manager of the Glasgow clinic, said that social media, combined with a rapid rise in the number of gyms and the normalisation of cosmetic surgery has all contributed to the increase in young people using IPEDS like steroids and tanning agents.

He explained: “It is a combination of things, like cosmetic procedures and cosmetic surgery being easily available, and the interest in gyms and improving physical fitness. There are now gyms everywhere.

“The majority of people coming to us now are using IPEDs for image-enhancing purposes.

“They want to become more appealing to the opposite sex when they’re out partying, clubbing. Its maybe people who don’t have a lot of experience regarding food and nutrition or training in the gym.”

According to research into the use of IPEDs among young Scots, around half of young people using the drugs said social media had influenced their decision.

The survey, by youth charity Fast Forward, also found that a third of users were women.

In 2016 think-tank Credos also looked into body image perceptions and influences in young men, finding around half cited celebrities as having an influence on how they feel about themselves.

Their report said: “Respondents went on to suggest that celebrity and social media culture promotes unrealistic body types which skewed young men’s self-image and led some to consider IPED use to achieve extreme body goals”

Another study on boys aged 11-15 found they wanted to “be in boy bands and attract girls by building bigger bodies”.

While steroids are the most commonly-used IPED, others such a tanning agents are used, mainly by women, to keep themselves bronzed.

Also known as the ‘Barbie drug’, the chemical is a synthetic version of the natural melanocyte-stimulating hormone, which increases the production of skin-darkening pigments.

It is no longer sold legitimately and medical professionals have warned against using it, but many people have just resorted to buying supplies on the black market and online.

It is injected under the skin, and is said to increase the development of a tan with minimal sun exposure. However the chemicals can have side effects such as liver damage, mole growth, nausea and dizziness.

It has also been linked to the chronic fatigue condition Fibromyalgia.

Campbell has seen a worrying increase in people who have developed body dysmorphia, commonly associated with eating disorders, directly linked to their IPED use over the past decade.

He said: “We are seeing people coming in who are developing this body dysmorphia as they go along. I’ve lost count of the number of guys sat across from me maybe 19 stone, and they say ‘I don’t know what’s going on, I feel as if I’ve lost an inch off my arms, a couple of pounds’.

“They have very real fears about stopping use. If you dig deeper and ask how many times a day they weigh themselves, they say five or six times, they take scales to work. It is very compulsive behaviour.

“It has similarities to eating disorders in that way. We are seeing that developing dysmorphia, which I would say is unusual but maybe not if you look at cosmetic procedures. People say ‘I’ll only get my lips done’ and then they’re getting their lips and cheeks, then Botox, then their nose…it goes on.”

One man, from Aberdeen, said he experienced body dysmorphia when he stopped using IPEDs.

Jason (not his real name) started using steroids and tanning chemicals after losing his job and starting his own personal training business.

The 23-year-old spends up to £400 a month on the drugs.

He said: “I never thought I would end up using steroids, but with personal training the way you attract new clients is by showing the results on yourself or other people. The quicker you can show the results, the more customers you can attract.

“Personal training is competitive. We use social media to get new clients, so if I can show myself looking good it makes people think that I can help them.

“It costs me a few hundred pounds a month but it is a business investment.”

Jason admitted that when he has stopped using IPEDs he has become more obsessed with his image.

He explained: “Everyone said how good I looked, but I couldn’t see it. All I could see was I had lost three inches from my biceps and I panicked that I looked terrible.

“Things like Instagram don’t help - you see other people who look incredible and you feel like you have to be the same.”

For long-term users a host of problems can develop including enormous abscesses, liver damage, diseases related to unclean injecting equipment and misshapen limbs.

Clients have come in to the clinic with infections so severe around the site of injection that they have had to have parts of their buttocks and legs removed to get rid of the infected tissue.

Young people using the drugs can have stunted growth, joint and bone pain as well as early physical maturation, while more commonly people develop extreme, painful acne which can last for months and leave scars.

When people stop using IPEDs the side-effects are often confused with depression and can lead GPs to prescribe anti-depressants if they are unaware of the patient’s background with IPEDs.

Campbell said: “The person may have no libido, at best they will have erectile dysfunction, a very low mood, they will often suffer mood swings.

“That leads to things like insomnia, which can have major impacts on someone’s life. If it is heavy use, it can go on for up to a year.”

The majority of the drugs are made in underground labs with no quality control. Some substances sold as steroids have been found to contain none at all, and are just bottles of vegetable oil.

While the IPED clinic in Glasgow aims to help those taking the drugs to do so in the safest way possible, they also try and encourage users to find healthier alternative.

Campbell explained: “We would always stop short of saying that steroids are safe to use. It’s my job to keep people as safe as possible, however at least 95% are made in underground labs mainly in China.

“Analysis shows a lot of heavy metal contaminants, its not gone through the most stringent of production. Even if the bottle contains what is stated on the label, there is no guarantee of strength or sterility.

“People think of IPEDs as a quick fix. They’re not. Nobody can inject steroids, sit on the sofa, munch on Doritos and expect to get a fantastic body. A lot of hard work has to go into it, that’s what people need to realise.”

Going to extremes for fame

ONE woman quit her job and became a full-time social media influencer after enlarging her bottom to 59 inches with illegal injections.

Courtney Barnes, from Miami, first started getting black-market buttock fillers at so-called 'pumping parties' when she was 22.

After three sets of the dodgy treatments, the economics graduate's rear had grown so large she was being photographed in public, with the pictures going viral online.

She decided to give up her office job and model her biggest asset to earn a living.

In 2017, she said: "So many pictures and videos of me were going viral just out shopping and dancing in the clubs.

“That’s when I started to model and get myself out there. I knew how to best market myself and the success was almost overnight.

"One thing that I did learn in economics is that it’s about having a product that people want - and my product is myself right now.

“My bottom is basically my bread and butter.”

In the last two years, Barnes has written a book entitled 'I Am Not My Body – But I Wanted a Bigger Behind’, gained more than 800,000 Instagram followers and has now revealed she wants the fillers removed.

She said she is not taken seriously as a professional due to her exaggerated posterior, which has caused her skin to discolour and sag.

Barnes, now 35, said: “At one point I wanted a bigger butt at any cost, but now I realise it could cost me my life and that’s why I wanted to bring the awareness to other women.

"I am ready to look like the girl next door, I am tired of being of bullied on social media and people following me and stalking me just to get a picture.

“I may look like a circus freak because of my booty but I am still a human."