Regulation of the aesthetics industry – what’s next?

Hamilton Fraser joined other industry associations in welcoming the recent news that the Botulinum Toxin and Cosmetic Fillers (Children) Bill will soon become law, banning the use of invasive nonsurgical cosmetic treatment involving the insertion of dermal fillers or the injection of toxin to any person under the age of 18, unless there is an explicit medically determined reason.

A prominent voice of support for the Bill came from the JCCP, a partner of Hamilton Fraser, who work closely with government and national bodies seeking greater regulation on non-surgical aesthetic treatments and hair restoration surgery in the UK, with the ultimate aim of creating a safer environment for members of the public undergoing non-surgical treatments.

The JCCP provided advice to government departments as part of the formulation of this important and long overdue piece of legislation and has campaigned for its legal enforcement. In this post, we take a closer look at the next steps that need to be taken on the road towards creating a safer aesthetic industry.

The JCCP’s 10 point plan

 The injectables industry in the UK is highly unregulated, so the new Bill that will soon become law represents a significant moment for the aesthetic sector, and an important step towards wider regulation around injectables in the future. The new legislation also forms a key component of the JCCP’s recently published 10 Point Plan. The plan lays out the campaigns the JCCP is carrying out and the goals they are seeking to achieve in their aim to create a safer aesthetic industry with mandated qualifications, premises criteria, insurance and other steps relating to the sector. The JCCP has created a handy 10 point plan infographic summarising all components of their plan, which are:

  1. Statutory regulation
  2. Mandatory education and training standards
  3. Clear, transparent information
  4. Definition of medical and cosmetic treatments
  5. Safe and ethical prescribing
  6. More regulated advertising and social media
  7. National complications reporting
  8. Adequate insurance cover
  9. Licensing of premises, treatments and practitioners
  10. Raising consumer awareness

 You can download a longer form article, the JCCP 10 point plan for safer regulation in the aesthetic sector, which contains a detailed explanation of the plan.

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Tighter regulation of social media and advertising

More regulated advertising and social media is the focus of point six of the JCCP’s plan. It calls for ‘tighter controls and penalties on exaggerated, inaccurate and misleading advertising and social media posts in relation to aesthetic treatments and hair restoration surgery, products and training’.

The JCCP have expressed ongoing concern about the irresponsible use of social media and advertising, which promote a ‘false picture of perfection’.

Commenting on the Botulinum Toxin and Cosmetic Fillers (Children) Bill, Professor David Sines CBE, Chair of the JCCP said:

“Whilst welcoming the new Bill, the JCCP is mindful that much more needs to be done to ensure that the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the Committee for Advertising Practice (CAP) are committed to the responsible advertising of aesthetic products and services, which do not mislead customers with regard to risk, benefits and outcomes.”

The JCCP highlight a number of areas of concern relating to social media and advertising. Here, we take a look at some of them.

What are the current issues when it comes to social media and advertising in aesthetics?

A major cause for concern is the way that irresponsible social media posts adversely influence public perceptions of both the need for cosmetic treatments, and of the quality and effectiveness of services that are ‘on offer’, which often misrepresent the risks and benefits.

Poor advertising practices, which often breach ASA guidance on responsible advertising and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) guidance on prescription only medicines, and the use of safe ‘quality assured products and devices’, are another area of concern. For example, many advertisements promote ‘anti-wrinkle’ treatments which are an illegal front for the inappropriate advertising of toxins, which are prescription only medicines.

Safe and ethical prescribing is a separate component on the JCCP’s plan, but this is also an area of concern when it comes to advertising, especially relating to the advertising of online prescribing services for non-prescribers for Botox without the need for face-to-face assessment of the patient. These advertisements are shared on social media platforms such as Facebook, enabling anyone involved in aesthetics, whatever their background, to access remote prescribing. Postings also reveal advice being offered on where to obtain toxins and fillers at cheap rates, with no regard for their quality and impact on patient safety.

The issue of Facebook and other social media platforms not consistently recognising laws around advertising prescription only medicines and ASA standards in the UK is a big concern to the JCCP and others in the industry. The way in which social media posts are being targeted at under 18s has been a particularly concerning issue.

Legislation to regulate the publication of advertisements that mislead and misinform members of the public and aesthetic practitioners about the exact nature, risks and benefits associated with cosmetic treatment and cosmetic training offers in the UK is still inadequate. Images of face and body parts are often digitally edited and not declared by the advertiser, misleading the public on likely realistic results of treatments. Until this changes, argue the JCCP, inappropriate advertising will continue to target vulnerable individuals, exploiting and reinforcing underlying emotional and psychological challenges that relate to body image, wellbeing and mental health.

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What needs to change?

When it comes to social media and advertising in aesthetics, the JCCP has identified four key objectives:

  1. The UK Government and the devolved National Parliaments/Assemblies to implement primary and secondary legislation to set standards restricting the publication of misleading, unsafe and exaggerated advertisements for the provision of hair restoration surgery and non-surgical cosmetic treatments
  1. The UK Government and the devolved National Parliaments/Assemblies to implement primary and secondary legislation to set standards restricting the publication of misleading, unsafe and exaggerated advertisements promoting education and training for practitioners who operate within the UK aesthetic sector
  1. The Advertising Standards Authority (the ASA) to report and take stronger action against poor advertising practice which often breaches CAP guidance on responsible advertising and MHRA guidance on advertising prescription only medicines and the use of safe ‘quality assured products and devices’
  1. Government agencies to work with social media companies to restrict the publication of misleading and harmful social media posts that result in physical, emotional and psychological harm being caused to members of the public; all social media posts should be underpinned by an evidence base that enables a fully informed decision to be made before undertaking a cosmetic procedure

How will change be achieved in social media and advertising relating to aesthetics?

 The JCCP has put together clear proposals for achieving change in social media and advertising in aesthetics. You can read them in full on page 22 of the JCCP’s 10 point plan for safer regulation in the aesthetics sector.

The proposals include:

  • Using its existing networks to exert political influence to enforce legislation aimed at restricting advertising within the aesthetics sector across the UK
  • Continuing to work with the ASA with the aim of ensuring that all those in the advertising industry are committed to the responsible advertising of aesthetic products and services which do not mislead customers. In addition, the JCCP will continue to work with the ASA to ensure that prescription-only substances, such as botulinum toxins, are prohibited from being advertised
  • Working with the MHRA and the ASA to introduce advertising restrictions on dermal fillers, in the same way that they are currently imposed on botulinum toxins
  • Working to ensure that advertising of aesthetic procedures is accompanied by advice that patients should seek assurance that practitioners are suitably trained
  • Working with government agencies, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Beauty, Wellbeing and Aesthetics, the ASA and the Mental Health Foundation to introduce legislation to restrict the publication of false, exaggerated, inaccurate and inappropriate social advertising that relate to ineffective and possibly dangerous substances/devices
  • Continuing to work with the Mental Health Foundation to identify and report examples where the use of social media promotions result in exaggerated and false claims relating to the benefits/efficacy/outcomes of aesthetic treatments
  • Continuing to work with the CAP/ASA to prevent misleading advertising and false or exaggerated claims by education and training providers, including financial penalty for proven breaches
  • Continuing to work with social media organisations and partner agencies and groups to identify, restrict and correct the publication of social media posts and messaging that make false or exaggerated claims with regard to ‘unsafe’ education and training courses

Since its publication in March 2021, the JCCP’s 10 point plan has been well received, with Professor David Sines commenting that it has ‘hit the right note’.

Eddie Hooker, CEO at Hamilton Fraser, adds:

“At Hamilton Fraser, we fully support the JCCP in striving for a safer future for the aesthetics industry. We agree that tighter controls and penalties on exaggerated, inaccurate and misleading advertising and social media posts in relation to aesthetic treatments is an important component of change. The JCCP’s role in reaching out to industry stakeholders such as the ASA, social media companies and government agencies is vital in bringing everyone together, particularly given the increase in promotion of aesthetic procedures online in recent times.”

You can read more about ethical marketing and social media for aesthetic practitioners here.

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