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Cosmetic procedures are often thought of purely in terms of cosmetic surgery, but in the last few years there has been a significant rise in the number of non-surgical treatments being carried out across the UK - and this trend is showing no signs of stopping.

In fact, non-surgical treatments such as Botox injections, dermal fillers, chemical peels and laser treatment now represent a clear majority of the market, and have become popularised by popular influencers on social media and the glamorous personalities appearing on TV shows such as Love Island. Yet despite this, the industry remains dangerously under-regulated, meaning many are receiving potentially risky treatments from unqualified practitioners - leaving them with little recourse if something does go wrong.

Although politicians have raised concerns about this status quo for a number of years, no significant changes have yet been made to address the problem, making it essential for consumers to take all the necessary steps to protect themselves and make the right decisions when opting for this kind of cosmetic procedure.

A lack of protection for people undergoing cosmetic procedures

Statistics from Save Face - a government-approved national register of accredited practitioners providing non-surgical cosmetic treatments - showed that this industry was worth £2.3 billion in 2010, rising to more than £3.6 billion by 2015. According to these figures, non-surgical treatments account for nine out of every ten cosmetic procedures carried out in the UK, making up 70% of the market as a whole by value.

However, the rapid growth of the market has not been accompanied by a corresponding increase in regulatory oversight and accountability. There is no legislation in place that controls who can or cannot provide a non-surgical procedure, meaning that theoretically anybody can do so, regardless of their lack of qualifications, expertise or adherence to any kind of industry-agreed standards of practice.

This also means that this market lacks any formal regulation about how they advertise their services - especially online or on social media - and that if something does go wrong, there is no established industry-approved process for seeking redress against the person responsible.

From a consumer protection perspective, this represents a serious problem, as non-surgical cosmetic procedures often carry very severe risks. A botched Botox injection, for example, can result in blindness, paralysis and skin necrosis, whereas mistakes during a chemical peel or laser treatment can lead to permanent skin damage and scarring. These risks are exacerbated when the practitioner in question does not have the training to carry out the procedure safely, or if they are working with cheap, unlicensed products purchased over the internet.

When considering that many of the individuals undergoing these procedures are young people who are hoping to replicate the look portrayed by celebrities and influencers they have seen on social media or reality TV, the potential dangers associated with this lack of regulation becoming starkly obvious.

Is progress being made?

In the last few years, the growing prevalence of non-surgical cosmetic procedures has attracted the attention of lawmakers, many of whom have drawn attention to the urgent need for better regulation of this sector.

An independent review of the industry released by former NHS medical director Sir Bruce Keogh in 2013 came with an ominous warning that the lack of legislation in this field represents “a crisis waiting to happen”. This led Sir Bruce to recommend the introduction of a new requirement for all practitioners in this sector to show they are properly qualified to carry out all the procedures they offer. The review also endorsed the instatement of an ombudsman to oversee all private healthcare, including cosmetic procedures, to oversee a formal complaints process for those who have received substandard care.

However, years later, the recommendations of the Keogh report are yet to be implemented, meaning patients remain at risk. Data from the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS) indicates that 616 complaints were reported to qualified cosmetic surgeons in 2018 about botched cosmetic procedures that needed to be surgically corrected, up from 249 in 2016.

There is evidence that politicians remain aware of the need to take action, with MP Alberto Costa leading a debate in the House of Commons in February 2019 calling for regulation of non-surgical cosmetic procedures, which referenced the Keogh review findings and was widely supported by all those present. But all evidence suggests that it will be some time before any meaningful legal action is taken.

How can consumers protect themselves?

Given the continued lack of formalised protection for people undergoing non-surgical cosmetic procedures in the UK, the onus falls on consumers themselves to get educated on the ways they can safeguard themselves from poor practice.

This means carrying out thorough research into any procedure you are thinking about undergoing, making sure you assess all of its potential risks and side effects, as well as looking into the professional background of the practitioner themselves. To help guide you through this process, you can refer to our How to Find a Safe Cosmetic Surgeon checklist, or refer to Save Face’s Practitioner Checker to source a government-approved practitioner.

In the event that something does go wrong due to the negligence of the person performing the procedure, it is vital to get the right legal advice to help you receive the support you deserve. As the first law firm in England and Wales to specialise in cosmetic procedures, Cosmetic Surgery Solicitors are well-placed to help you make a claim for compensation, and will guide you through every step of the process.

Get in touch with us today by calling 0808 302 3206 , or complete our online enquiry form to request a call back.

You can also check out the petition we have launched alongside Save Face, which calls for better protection for young people online who may be persuaded to seek out cosmetic procedures due to content they view from social media influencers.

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