Under-18s are no longer able to get botulinum toxin injections - often known as Botox - or dermal lip fillers for cosmetic reasons in England. But it's still legal in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and it only addresses a minute aspect of a whopping problem.
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Government estimates suggest up to 41,000 injectable procedures were carried out on under-18s in England last year, raising concerns there were was not enough regulation in the non-surgical cosmetic industry. YOU DON'T SAY!
Let's consider that for a moment. 41,000 CHILDREN were given non-surgical aesthetic treatments last year, in England alone. However, this shocking statistic is just the tip of the iceberg of a gigantic murky, dangerous and extremely concerning situation in the UK.
A Deep Societal Problem.
Sadly, the promise of achieving a celebrity look or the perfect 'Instagram face' is core selling point for the beauty industry. Famous influencers on social media have created a whole new demand for teenagers - and adults - to go 'under the needle'.
There is a proliferation of beauty salons and 'kitchen table' injectors offering 'Kimmy K' and 'Kylie' packages, often promoted on Facebook and Instagram and seen by children as young as 13.
The evolution of social media and the impact it has on young people's quest for beauty, goes far beyond photoshopped magazine images that we used to worry about. It's omnipresent, it's addictive and it gives people completely unrealistic expectations and a new different pressure to look perfect. To look like computer animations of themselves. It's no coincidence that the rise of the 'Instagram face' and generation correlates with the rise and proliferation of beauticians and lay people offering cheap cosmetic treatments - where there's demand, there's supply. The lack of regulation in the UK has given birth to a dangerous and uncomfortable situation.
Social Media Sells The Dream.
Although it is illegal to advertise brands of botulinum toxin, the monitoring and regulation of this is near-on impossible. Social media companies Facebook and Instagram currently have no restrictions on posts promoting such procedures, and the Advertising Standards Authority simply does not have the resources to police the posts.
It isn't illegal to advertise lip fillers or any other non-surgical aesthetic treatments and it's entirely legal for people to call themselves 'qualified aesthetic practitioners' when they are nothing of the kind. There are no restrictions on anyone using Facebook and instagram to sell aesthetic treatments and they are getting more risky and more blatant. There are numerous groups and communities who share details of prescribers willing to write dodgy prescriptions without ever seeing a patient and there are hundreds of counterfeit fillers and other medicines being sold.
And It's Just Getting Worse.
As demand for aesthetic treatments grows, so do different techniques, products and devices. And nobody in the UK is monitoring this.
In the USA the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) whose job it is to protect the health of the public in America, has recently warned the public not to use needle-free devices for the injection of dermal fillers. Needle-free devices use high pressures to force dermal filler into the body without a needle. While in theory you might think this sounds safer than a needle, the opposite is in fact true, and patients can suffer extremely serious adverse effects, resulting in permanent damage to the skin, lips and eyes.
In the UK anyone can buy one of these pens, anyone can use them (legally) on anyone else and the social media companies and Government seemingly care not a jot. You only need to do a quick search on Facebook to find plenty of people offering these treatments, selling them as a package and giving absolutely zero evidence they're appropriately trained.
Facebook is overrun with promotions for no-needle lip filler!
It's very easy for anyone to buy filler - it's not a prescription only product and can be bought very easily on the internet.
There is no formal training or accreditation process in the UK for aesthetics treatments. Non-medics can call themselves qualified and accredited and the meaning of that can vary enormously. Even if you have zero qualifications or training, it's not illegal to say you do...
So Does The Under 18s Ban Go Far Enough?
Clearly not. While it's a small positive step (yet astonishing it wasn't already in place) it absolutely does not go far enough and we need to start protecting all people now. Quite aside from the fact it would be fairly easy for someone to pop across the border, to get their lip fillers, there still remains no UK law requiring practitioners to have formal qualifications or training for the procedures. And how about all the other procedures? It's illegal to give a 17 year old girl some wrinkle relaxing treatments now, but what about if she asks for a thread lift, to achieve the 'fox eye' look, which is so revered by young and impressionable women?
Facebook say it takes the well-being of its community seriously and are committed to making their platforms safe places, but are they? Do they even know this is a problem? Do they care people are calling themselves qualified and experienced aesthetics practitioners, when actually they've just bought an unlicensed product from the internet and set up a Facebook page with some dodgy looking lips?
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What can be done?
There is a very simple step that can be taken to stop all of this. The Government must make it illegal for non-surgical aesthetics to be practised by anyone but medical professionals. It must become an criminal offence to offer any treatment that involves invasive procedures, unless you have a medical qualification. There will be no more beauticians or lay people offering Botox and fillers, there will be no Facebook adverts for no-needle lip fillers, there will far less 'training schools' offering to teach people how to do lip filler via a Zoom.
It's not going to solve everything and it's not going to guarantee full safety and the best set of lips. There will always be outliers, there will always be people willing to break the law, there will always be some medics who are less experienced and trained than others. But, it draws a very distinct line in the sand and gives the industry a base line. It has the potential to be singularly the biggest and most important reform the Government could make in public health policy, that will work quickly and effectively.
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