Melanie Latham on Advertisements for Cosmetic Surgery and Beauty Practices

Melanie Latham
This is the sixth in a series of posts about whether advertisements for cosmetic surgery and other beauty practices should be banned. Here Melanie Latham, Reader in Law at Manchester Law School, and Co-Investigator of the Beauty Demands project, gives her thoughts. If you would like to contribute to this discussion please email your response to Jan Kandiyali.

Would you be in favour of banning all advertisements for non-invasive beauty treatments and/or cosmetic surgery? If you are not in favour of banning all advertisements would you be in favour of banning some - for instance for certain types of procedures? If so can you explain why for some and not all and how you would determine which should be advertised?Would you differentiate depending on where adverts were placed; for instance would you accept adverts in women's magazines where the intended audience is adult women, but not in public places where they would be seen by children?Alternatively do you think that any banning advertisements would be wrong and why?

I am a firm believer in the agency of women as consumers and cosmetic surgery patients, and their ability to make their own decisions about treatments done to their bodies. However, cosmetic procedures, whether involving surgery or not, are not without risk and are currently regulated only to a very limited extent. The high level of risk and low level of regulation are further exacerbated because cosmetic surgery procedures take place almost exclusively in the private medical sector. This sector is essentially profit making. If they advertise their wares, they may do so without disclosing the clinical risks or financial costs involved, nor their own lack of skill or experience. Adverts do not enable patients to make a more informed consent, nor do they reduce risk.

The Keogh Report of 2013 only wanted to ensure adverts were compliant with current rules set by the Advertising Standards Authority, so that they should not be misleading, harmful or offensive. Yet the French have made any direct or indirect advertising by a cosmetic surgeon a criminal offence since 2005.

Adverts for cosmetic procedures in the UK in magazines or on websites are certainly likely to feature before and after pictures which may have been photoshopped. Or they may feature patients, particularly women, who are considered to be conventionally very attractive, but who have not necessarily had any treatments performed by those practitioners or on those advertised premises. These adverts are therefore arguably both persuasive and misleading. Keogh was certainly right to recommend the improvement of the advertising of cosmetic procedures. The French cosmetic surgeon is more likely to have a website with their qualifications and address, as with any other specialist, but no photos. Perhaps then the French model is a much more acceptable way of informing patients.

The advertising of cosmetic procedures in the UK is certainly ripe for improvement then. Adverts in magazines are perhaps particularly inappropriate for surgery.

That is not to say however that patients do not need to be protected further through the introduction of stricter regulation on other aspects associated with cosmetic procedures, such as qualifications, premises, selling techniques, cosmetic medicine, counselling, record keeping and after care. Regulation of all these things taken together - including if adverts - will reduce risk, ensure informed consent, and enable patients to act with agency.

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