Oct 1, 2021
A step in the right direction: Cosmetic Botox and fillers banned for under-18s
In great news, today marks the introduction of the Botulinum Toxin and Cosmetic Fillers (Children) Act. Under this law cosmetic Botox and fillers for under-18s will be banned. Botox, properly called botulinum toxin (Botox is a brand name), and dermal fillers are two of the most popular non-surgical procedures amongst an increasingly younger audience.
This is a step which the BAD, with many others, has long campaigned for. Our position, which has been echoed by notable professional bodies across the industry, is that offering these procedures to under-18s purely for cosmetic reasons is deeply wrong.
Non-surgical cosmetic procedures are a booming industry. A boom driven, in part, by cultural juggernauts, such as Love Island and before that The Only Way is Essex, social media, and the ever-increasing desire to fight the natural ageing process. As of 2020, the UK’s cosmetic surgery was worth an estimated £3.6 billion, with non-surgical treatments accounting for 9 out of 10 of these procedures.
According to research by online safety charity Internet Matters, 35% of children have their own tablet by the time they are five, and half of ten-year-olds have a smartphone. These devices, if not appropriately managed by parents, can be a doorway into the world of social media.
Everyone’s social media experience is unique, but taken as a whole, we know that social media does tend to intensify existing societal pressure which leads people to procedures such as Botox and fillers at a young age. Features to manipulate photos and videos, marketing from cosmetic practitioners, and social media ‘influencers’ all play a role in this.
One study of teenage girls found that those who regularly shared selfies on social media, reported significantly higher body dissatisfaction than those who did not. This rate of body dissatisfaction was highest amongst those who manipulated the selfies they posted.
Internal research by Facebook regarding their social media platform Instagram has come to similar conclusions. One study of teenagers from the UK and US, found that 40% of users who reported feeling “unattractive” said the feeling began whilst using the platform.
Regulation of the non-surgical cosmetic procedures industry has been historically weak, with few limitations on who can perform these procedures. While Botox is only available on prescription, anyone can inject it. Dermal fillers, another common cosmetic procedure, can be bought and injected by anyone.
As a consequence, there are many practitioners with poor (or no) training in how to perform procedures. This lack of regulation opens the door to unprincipled practitioners who would perform these procedures on young people and children without qualms.
Adverse events, or side effects, linked to Botox injections range from mild swelling and pain or bruising at the injection site, to muscle weakness, vision issues, trouble speaking or swallowing, and breathing problems. Adverse side effects for fillers include redness, swelling, pain, bruising, infection, leakage, movement of the filler, ulceration and scarring and, in rare cases even blindness. Clearly it is in the interest of clients that these procedures are performed by highly trained practitioners and that they are age restricted.
Any sector where there is scope for financial gain without significant barriers is susceptible to cowboys, and non-surgical cosmetic industry is no different. While there is certainly more that needs to be done to better regulate the industry, protecting adolescents from these practitioners is a positive step forward and we hope this ban is a catalyst for improved regulations for all age groups in the years to come.
Recent recommendations from the All-Party Parliamentary Group On Beauty, Aesthetics & Wellbeing for improving the industry include, but are not limited to:
- The government to set a minimum national training standard for practitioners looking to perform non-surgical procedures
- Training bodies must meet minimum curriculum standards
- Any non-surgical cosmetic treatment that uses prescription-only medicines must be overseen by a qualified prescribing physician. A face-to-face consultation with the person overseeing the procedure should be mandatory prior to any treatment
- Dermal fillers should be classified as a prescription-only medicine and administered as described above
- Improved data collection on the types of aesthetic treatments, number of practitioners, training courses, as well as complications – amongst other factors – to help inform policy decisions, support practitioners, and protect consumers
- Clearly defined laws on what constitutes a ‘medical-related’ service to prevent confusion
- Social media channels must censor, or highlight, misleading adverts and do more to combat the adverse effects promoting non-surgical cosmetic treatments can have on the mental wellbeing of consumers