A person undergoing a cosmetic facial treatment

Opinion: the ugly side of beauty

The regulatory regime is woefully under-equipped for controlling the cosmetic treatments market, but calls for change have been heard.
19 September 2019 , Sarah Clover, barrister

A significant number of people are employed by the UK beauty and aesthetics industry, and the range of treatments is constantly changing.

The legal regulatory regime is woefully under-equipped for controlling practitioners and service providers in the market now, let alone in the future.

In England, outside London, acupuncture, skin colouring, cosmetic piercing and electrolysis can be regulated by adoptive registration under the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982. In London, a wider range of treatments can be licensed by specific legislation. In Wales, the Public Health (Wales) Act 2017 applies, which does not extend the range of treatments but provides more flexibility. Local authorities also have the option of introducing local acts and by-laws covering hygiene, and model by-laws address infection control.

There are other ways of penalising harmful practices, ranging from Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 offences to Trading Standards offences and even prosecution for assault. But the complexity of procedure, and the difficulty in understanding the suitability of the legal options available to regulatory officers, means that good practice is often not enforced. It would take extensive experience and immense knowledge of the legislation for officers to proceed to active enforcement in many cases, and this is hard to achieve with the state of the law as it is.

On top of that, many cases go unreported because the victims did not know who to make their complaint to, so malpractice is not even notified to those who could address it.
The legislative scheme is manifestly confusing, and the wide variation in approach on the basis of geography is unhelpful. Even where adopted, the level of control that local authorities can exert through practice and training under the legislation is low. It is not too dramatic to describe the legal landscape as chaos.

Calls for overhaul have been heard

Current legislation does not even touch upon the wider range of treatments and services that the public can now access on a regular basis. These include treatments such as Botox and dermal fillers and electrical skin treatments involving high heat, or lasers. Legal definitions are too narrow to encompass many of these modern treatments, which can cause significant harm if incorrectly applied.

At a time when enforcement and protection need to be at their optimum level, the experience of professionals and the public is quite the opposite. The variability of the quality of practitioners is concerning and the plethora of informal policy and guidance simply confuses matters.

Recently, calls for an overhaul of this area of the law have grown louder. In May, an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for beauty, aesthetics and well-being was announced, and appears to be welcomed by the Government. It seems likely the formation of the APPG will be the catalyst for a review of the regulation of the industry, which must be as thorough as reforms of the alcohol, entertainment, gambling and animal licensing regimes.

Sarah Clover is a barrister at Kings Chambers. She was a speaker at the recent CIEH Beauty Conference.

This is from an article that appeared in the September issue of EHN.

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