Why cosmetic clinics need regulation

Here’s a puzzler for anyone considering a cosmetic procedure: why is it that you can’t call yourself an independent financial adviser without passing rigorous examinations, but you can call yourself an aesthetic therapist without any formal training?

Should aesthetic clinics and procedures be better regulated?
Should there be tighter regulations on non-surgical cosmetic procedures?

Of course, the best cosmetic clinics are likely to have highly-qualified staff. But the fact remains that in law, your finances are currently better protected than your face. An unqualified person can’t give paid advice on your finances, but can advise you on medical treatments (and some aesthetic procedures plainly count as such). Not only that, but entirely unqualified people can actually carry out these procedures.  Unbelievably, there’s no legal obstacle to someone with no training or experience injecting your lips with hyaluronic acid.

The consequences of getting such procedures wrong can be serious. When fillers are not adminstered carefully, for example, they can move from the target area, forming unsightly lumps. This problem is at the milder end of the spectrum – when performed incorrectly, some cosmetic procedures can result in scarring, burning and infection.

None of this intended to be scare-mongering. In practice, most people working in aesthetic clinics have received at least some training, and most clinics will provide a safe and reliable procedure. The point is that consumers have no guaranteed protection and there are no guaranteed minimum standards.

This raises two important questions. Firstly, is anything being done about regulating the industry? Secondly, what can someone considering an aesthetic procedure do to protect themselves?

First steps towards regulation

In the wake of the PIP breast implant scandal, the government commissioned a report into the regulation of cosmetic procedures. Published in 2013, the Keogh Review was blunt in its verdict:

In fact, a person having a non-surgical cosmetic intervention has no more protection and redress than someone buying a ballpoint pen or a toothbrush.

The report goes on to say:

It is our view that dermal fillers are a crisis waiting to happen.

The review did not go unheard. This year, the British Association of Cosmetic Nurses (BACN) and The British College of Aesthetic Medicine (BCAM) announced that they will develop a Joint Council for the non-surgical aesthetics sector. Though this is welcome, the Keogh review pointed out the weaknesses with self-regulation:

…voluntary codes have meant that only the best in this disparate sector commit themselves to better practice, whilst the unscrupulous and unsafe carry on as before.

So what about external regulation? In January 2016, Health Education England published two reports (see part 1 and part 2), setting out recommended standards of training for non-cosmetic procedures. These reports, if acted upon, will go a long way towards addressing the problems besetting the industry. For example, the recommendations include:

  • registering anyone who performs cosmetic interventions, including non-surgical procedures
  • ensuring practitioners are appropriately qualified for the procedures offered
  • ensuring non-surgical procedures are performed under the responsibility of a clinical professional with accredited qualifications.

As things stand, however, these recommendations remain just that. They are not laws. At the time of writing, a visitor to a cosmetic clinic has no more protection guaranteed than she or he did in 2013.

Safety in cosmetic procedures

What all this means is that the onus is on the consumer to make informed choices. Before undertaking any cosmetic procedure, they need to research the likely benefits and the potential risks. Above all, they need to establish the training and credibility of the practitioner.

But what is an appropriate level of training?  One of the problems for a consumer is that training in non-cosmetic procedures is also unregulated – and it’s therefore not easy to assess how much training their practitioner has actually had.

With this in mind, the HEE report provides some interesting insights. In its training framework, it proposes that administering skin peels, and Botox to the upper face, should be supervised by a medical professional.

In our view, until further regulation arrives, the safest and simplest way to approach a non-cosmetic procedure is to choose a clinic where this will be performed or overseen by a fully qualified doctor. This is the approach we take at the White Horse Aesthetic Clinic. We feel that this straightforward step lays to rest any worry about training or qualifications and allows our clients to look forward to their treatment with confidence.

For any enquiries about non-surgical aesthetic procedures, please get in touch.