Social media blamed for fuelling growth in unscrupulous practitioners promoting treatments using illegal, prescription-only medicines
Nine out of 10 London beauty clinics are breaking the law by advertising Botox, new research reveals, with the cosmetic treatments industry being likened to the ‘wild west’.
A team of academics led by Dr David Zargaran at University College London (UCL) found 142 (61%) of 206 London premises advertised ‘Botox’ or other brands of botulinum toxin online. Others used wording such as ‘anti-wrinkle injections’, which is also in breach of the law and the Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA’s) code of conduct.
The UCL paper, published in Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, concluded that ‘poor compliance’ with the ASA’s code of conduct was a cause of concern because ‘advertising prescription-only medication may pose a potential risk to patients’.
Ashton Collins, Director at the charity, Save Face described the UCL findings as a ‘drop in the ocean’. He said: “Social media has become a hotbed for unscrupulous practitioners to promote treatments using prescription-only medicines that are often sourced illegally and are injected without valid prescriptions, leaving patients at serious risk of harm.
“There is a huge issue with current regulations that apply to aesthetic medicine not being properly enforced. Breaches in advertising standards are ubiquitous across all areas of the UK.
“We have called for the government to establish a taskforce to unite all relevant stakeholders to ensure all regulatory breaches are taken seriously and are enforced properly.”
Professor David Sines CBE, Executive Chair of the Joint Council for Cosmetic Practitioners, said that the findings were ‘alarming’.
He said: “It is completely unacceptable. The advertising of named prescription-only medicines, often accompanied by exaggerated and misleading statements, can lead to enduring emotional and psychological trauma. These findings show that the cosmetic treatments industry is still too much of a wild-west environment.”
The ASA responded that ensuring advertisers don’t market these products remains ‘a high priority issue’.
A spokesperson said: “We’ve escalated sanctions against the small number of repeat offenders we’ve seen, working with platforms to have their social media accounts removed until they give us an assurance that they’ll follow the rules.”
Ipswich Borough Council EHO Rosemary Naylor told EHN Extra: “A nationwide licensing regime for non-surgical cosmetic procedures is due to be introduced to ensure consistent standards in the industry. This should remove some of the ‘cowboy’ practitioners.
“In the meantime, public education may be of benefit. It is surprising how many people receiving ‘botox’ treatments are unaware of the requirement to have a consultation with a qualified prescriber who will discuss their suitability for treatment prior to writing the prescription for the product.”
“The government must seize this opportunity to ensure resources are provided to environmental health teams [so that] this work can be carried out effectively.”
Helen Atkinson, Senior EHO at Wakefield Council commented: “The purpose of the legislation is to reduce the risk of harm and protect public health. The government must seize this opportunity to include all areas of dubious practice and ensure resources are provided to environmental health teams to ensure this work can be carried out effectively.”
Julie Barratt, CIEH President said she could not understand why the government “continues to prevaricate”.
She said: “The Keogh Review in 2013 recommended that this sector be regulated, a call repeated by the Commons Health and Social Care Committee last year. Practitioners are operating in flagrant breach of the law and have the capacity to do considerable and permanent damage to the people that they treat.
“We urge the government to act quickly.”
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