We live in the age of images and illusions, where two-dimensional airbrushed images of perfect men and women flash before our eyes constantly, whether it is on TV screens, on billboards or in magazines. As image and external appearance are perceived to be more and more important in our society, it is not surprising that cosmetic surgery is more popular today than ever before.
There are a plethora of surgical operations that qualify as cosmetic surgery; some popular procedures include breast enhancements, bottom implants, chin correction surgery, and rhinoplasty or a nose job.
While the number of cosmetic surgeries performed in the UK is rapidly on the rise, what is alarming is that the legal regulations surrounding these procedures are surprisingly lax. Irrespective of whether it is for cosmetic or medical purposes, surgery is a medical procedure and thus the cosmetic industry should be regulated as a branch of medicine. The problem with the cosmetic industry, however, is that in terms of laws and regulation, it is not at all treated like a branch of medicine – far from it.
It is important to understand the different players in the cosmetic industry to discern where more regulation is required. For instance, the General Medical Council and the Care Quality Commission do regulate premises and practitioners both private and public which are directly involved in the performance of a procedure. However, there is no regulation of the entire industry as such. This means that it is unclear as to what kind of services can be offered by private cosmetic clinics, and there is no regulation of the expected standard of efficacy of the procedures or the standard of equipment used, etc.
The picture is not as grave elsewhere in Europe. In other European countries such as France and Denmark, there are clear legal guidelines which state what type of surgeries can be performed and which practitioners offer what type of services. Here, a vet could deliver Botox injections if the patient was okay with it!
We hear stories about people who, falling prey to advertisements for cheap cosmetic procedures, travel to countries where healthcare is poorly regulated and end up with seriously dangerous complications or possible death. But the situation is not very different here at home. Here in the UK, there are lunchtime cosmetic clinics that offer potentially dangerous cosmetic treatments, many of which have not yet been studied or approved as safe. Conversely, countries such as Thailand and India claim to have put in place stringent regulation for cosmetic procedures so as to protect as well as promote their image as safe medical tourism destinations.
Another area of the industry that could do with some serious control is advertising. Limited-time offers, two for one or buy one, get one free offers on cosmetic procedures may sound bizarre but are not uncommon and can place pressure on clients to make hasty and often unsafe decisions. It may be argued that people should take responsibility and choose wisely, but that would be an unfair argument. The cosmetic industry may be poorly regulated in the UK, but it operates under a quasi-medical jargon that is difficult to see through.
Going by the recent case of substandard and non-medical-grade silicon used for breast implants and how most private surgeries in the UK have managed to get away without taking any responsibility for the mess, it is crucial that stricter laws and regulations be put in place to protect patients. The demand for cosmetic surgery is on the rise, and it is an industry that generates tremendous profit year after year. However, the profit motive should never be allowed to interfere with the delivery of healthcare and the trust that patients place upon medics.