Is beauty in the eye of the beholder? Or should we give the way we look a bit of a spruce up, to make the most of what we’ve got?

From beauty creams to surgical and non-surgical cosmetic surgery procedures, our quest for beauty led to people spending £12.3bn in 2022, with the industry as a whole generating £24.5 bn in total, or a 0.5% of the UK’s GDP.

Over the last few years, the range of beauty products and treatments available has increased dramatically, as have some truly shocking reports of medical procedures going horribly wrong. The Government has become so concerned about rogue and untrained individuals injecting chemicals in to people that they’re clamping down hard on the unauthorised players in the sector… but the new rules aren’t in place just yet.

Have a look on your local high street and there’s a chance you’ll find someone who is offering ‘aesthetic services’. Now ask yourself, ‘what’s their medical background?’ So if you’re considering a having a beauty procedure you should make sure your eyes are wide open to the risks.

But if you’ve decided to fight back against the aging process or simply want a few non-permanent tweaks so you feel better about yourself, where do you begin?

What is a non-surgical cosmetic procedure?

These days, the term ‘plastic surgery’ is a little out of favour in the beauty industry, thanks to endless ‘plastic surgery fails’ and ‘world’s worst plastic surgery disasters’ on TV and the internet. But the rise of less drastic medical procedures has meant that many more medical procedures that sill carry an element of risk take place.

The most common terms used now are:

(Surgical) cosmetic surgery

This includes things like:

  • Rhinoplasty (nose jobs)
  • Liposuction (fat removal)
  • Breast augmentation (both enhancements and reductions)
  • Rhytidectomy (facelift surgery)
  • Deep chemical peels (and other significant skin operations)

Non-surgical cosmetic surgery

This includes things like:

  • Botulinum toxin injections (Botox)
  • Tattoo removal
  • Dermal fillers (face and lip filler injections).
  • Microdermabrasion (using fine crystals to ‘vacuum’ dead skin cells).
  • Skin lightening

As you can see, there’s some crossover in procedures there. Some skin treatments may require a surgical procedure with the appropriate skilled professional and support services. This is most apparent with skin peels, that can be ‘deep’ (surgical) or ‘superficial’ or ‘medium’ (non-surgical).

We might not view things like lip fillers or Botox in the same way as what we used to call plastic surgery. However, as with any medical procedure there are always risks – some of which can be considerable.

Practitioners offering these services must be suitably qualified and experienced – though the law has struggled to keep up with the explosion in demand. In addition, there have been a number of horror stories in the press, particularly about dangerous procedures undertaken abroad (don’t do it).

Finally, there are some procedures that could be considered to be ‘cosmetic’ but often arise from standard medical practices. These might include a dentist offering teeth whitening services, or an optician offering laser eye surgery.

What should I think about before signing up for non-surgical cosmetic surgery?

In this guide I’m going to look at non-surgical cosmetic surgery, rather than the rather more committal surgical procedures. But regardless what procedure you are considering having, it’s vital that you conduct all the necessary checks before going ahead.

First and foremost, any form of beauty treatment or cosmetic surgery procedure is not magic. It will not transform you in to someone different and there are limitations on every procedure.

A little like having a tattoo, you should take time to think about what you want from the procedure and why. A few good starting points are:

  • How long have you thought about this cosmetic surgery procedure?
  • What are you expecting when the procedure is done?
  • Are non-surgical options available?
  • Why do you feel so strongly about having this procedure?
  • Am I doing this for me or to please someone else? Is this what society/social media expects of me?
  • Do I understand the risks and the costs?

The NHS website has a great guide to the factors you should be considering before signing up for any type of cosmetic procedure here.

What should I ask at the consultation and what research should I do?

The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS), says

“Any consultation for a procedure should include a full medical history including information about past illnesses, medication and allergies. Following this there should be a careful clinical examination and a discussion regarding different treatment’s modalities for the complaint. Finally, a thorough consent process with signed consent forms should be undertaken”. 

Even if you’re only having a procedure that seems minor – one that involves minimal anaesthetic and you can leave straight away afterwards unsupervised – a consultation should take place. You should also be made aware of the risks associated with the procedure.

Finally, you should be given time to consider the procedure and not just rushed in to the next room to have the treatment.

When you’re at the consultation, make sure you ask:

  • What it involves.
  • The names of the drugs and treatments involved (so you can look them up).
  • The experience of the practitioner, their qualifications and how many times they’ve carried out the specific procedure.
  • The risks and complications associated with the procedure.
  • What aftercare and follow up is offered and recovery times.
  • How long the treatment lasts and what happens if you think something is wrong.

How do I find a suitable non-surgical practitioner or plastic surgeon?

Clinics and hospitals in the UK that offer surgical cosmetic treatments must be registered.

The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) recommends evaluating three key criteria before proceeding with cosmetic surgery:

  • Is the surgeon listed on the General Medical Council (GMC) specialist register and affiliated with FRCS (plast), (Fellow of the Royal College of Cosmetic Surgeons) or an equivalent professional body?
  • Are they a member of BAAPS (British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeon) or BAPRAS (The British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons)?
  • Is the clinic or facility Care Quality Commission (CQC) registered (in England?)

For private clinics in Scotland, refer to Healthcare Improvement Scotland

In Wales, it’s Healthcare Inspectorate Wales.

In Northern Ireland, it’s the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority.

Of course, being registered isn’t a guarantee of quality of service. You’ll still need to do a bit of research in to the clinic and practitioner.

The BAAPS guidance relates to people considering a surgical cosmetic procedure. For non-surgical cosmetic procedures, it’s not as clear cut.  In fact there’s no one specific database you can check. Instead there are a range of schemes and trade organisations that offer some reassurance about the skills and experience of aesthetic practitioners.

Lesley Blair, from the British Association of Beauty Therapy and Cosmetology (BABTAC), points out that prescribing medical practitioners (including their members) should have insurance for things like injectables like fillers and Botox, adding:

“To minimise risk before booking any form of treatment, it’s important to always do your due diligence and definitely not just be persuaded by low costs. Don’t be afraid to ask what training practitioners have had, ensure they are adequately insured, as well as what preliminary and aftercare they offer. In the case of injectables an experienced and adequately trained professional doing your treatment should also be legally allowed to prescribe relevant antidotes required to manage any associated complications”

BABTAC points out that some treatments, like dermal fillers, aren’t currently regulated and ‘terrifyingly’ can be bought online. Not wishing to ruin anyone’s day, but just because somebody has a syringe full of Botox doesn’t mean they’re allowed to use it on you (or know where on our incredibly complex facial musculature they can and can’t stick it). Which is why it’s vital to carry out these checks and ask the right questions.

Always check with the following organisations – not just for registered practitioners, but for online guides and advice:

You can check the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) to see if a practitioner is registered with them.

In addition, you can find examples of registered practitioners with ‘standards of training, insurance and skill’ here:

What does the law say about cosmetic procedures?

Licencing, laws and regulations around beauty and cosmetic treatments are notoriously piecemeal. Botox isn’t currently licenced for cosmetic use – but it can be used ‘off licence’. This doesn’t mean it’s illegal. It does mean that it should only be given by a qualified medical practitioner after a face-to-face consultation – and they are responsible for what happens next.

The Government realised that the rules around unregistered practitioners were far too lax, so proposed a tough new licencing scheme in England, mirrored around the UK too. This hasn’t been introduced just yet, but you can get an idea of what’s covered in the consultation here.

Non-surgical cosmetic procedures and plastic surgery gone wrong: What are my rights?

There’s a big difference between not liking the results of a procedure and something going horribly wrong.

If you’re unhappy with a medical or non-surgical procedure, have a think about what you’re not happy about:

  • Has the procedure ‘worked?’
  • Has the procedure had unexpected side-effects that impact the way you look?
  • Has the procedure had unexpected side-effects that have affected your health?
  • Do you think the procedure has been done poorly or incorrectly?
  • Are the standards of aftercare not good enough?

Needless to say, if you’re concerned about a medical or health situation, you should seek help as soon as possible at A&E. For minor health concerns you should speak to the consultant and your doctor as soon as you can too.

Surgical and non-surgical cosmetic procedures: who do I complain to?

Cosmetic and aesthetic surgery is like any other contract you enter in to with a business or organisation. If they haven’t provided the service you paid for, you can take things further.

Your starting point if you want to make a complaint is to take it up with the private hospital, surgery or clinic where the procedure took place. The practitioner should have a complaints procedure, so ask to see it and make a formal complaint in writing.

Make sure you spell out what happened, what you understood about the procedure and everything that took place during the consultation, procedure and aftercare. If you feel the appropriate checks were not carried out, then make this clear.

It’s important to set out what it is that you are ultimately unhappy with, along with what you want as a resolution. With cosmetic surgery procedures, most people want two things:

  • For the error to be corrected (or rectified as much as is possible).
  • Compensation to reflect the incident and any ongoing support or treatment.

If you’re pursuing a considerable settlement, then you’ll need to speak to a solicitor who specialises in medical malpractice. There are many solicitors online that offer these services, often on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis. But in just the same way as you need to research a cosmetic practitioner, you’ll need to do your research on the solicitors too.

Make sure you ask about how much of the compensation they will take if you win – it might not leave you with enough for your needs.

Featured in Times Money Mentor – Martyn James

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