Changing face of cosmetic surgery

Cosmetic surgery in the UK has been scarred by headlines of procedures gone wrong and unscrupulous practices, detracting from the majority of providers for whom high ethical standards and patient safety are a priority. Yet despite the bad publicity, the industry has continued to expand exponentially. Cosmetic procedures, it would seem, are recession proof.

A report by business intelligence specialists GBI Research shows the facial aesthetics market has been growing globally at a rate of more than 10 per cent a year and predicts it will double in size to reach $5.4 billion by 2020.

The rapid growth in this sector has been attributed to ongoing economic recovery, greater consumer awareness of injectable treatments and younger generations wanting to fight or prevent the signs of ageing.

But it is not just facial aesthetics that have contributed to the industry’s boom. The global body-shaping market has been credited with being one of the main drivers in the non-surgical sector, with leading manufacturer Syneron Candela reporting a 13 per cent rise in their non-invasive body contouring business in 2012.

Surgery too has seen an increase with the British Association of Plastic Surgeons reporting a double-digit rise in 2013 for all cosmetic procedures, a trend not seen since the pre-recession days of 2008.

Even the scandal of substandard PIP implants did little to impact the popularity of breast augmentation, which has seen a 13 per cent rise in the last year. The crisis did, however, make the surgery-seeking public more conscious than ever before of the importance of having safe, quality products, procedures and providers, and put the wheels in motion for change.

Rapid growth has been attributed to economic recovery, greater consumer awareness of injectable treatments and younger generations fighting or preventing the signs of ageing

Earlier this year, the government issued its response to the review of the industry, carried out by Professor Sir Bruce Keogh in the wake of PIP, but while much noise was made about the lack of regulation and standards of practice in the industry, little has yet been done to effect real change.

Following the Queen’s Speech in June, no mention was made of the draft Cosmetic Bill and the industry remains without any form of statutory regulation.

According to Sir Bruce: “We were hoping to go for pre-legislative scrutiny with a draft Cosmetic Bill in September. However, due to other pressing government commitments, we will not be able to take this forward. The government is committed to protecting the public, and ensuring proper training and oversight of non-surgical, as well as surgical, cosmetic interventions, and is committed to legislate where necessary to help do this, when Parliamentary time allows.”

While regulation could still be two or three years away, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The Royal College of Surgeons has set up an inter-specialty committee to ensure standards for cosmetic surgery and is working with the General Medical Council on a code of ethical conduct, while the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency is currently piloting a breast implant registry.


Health Education England has also completed a review of the training for providers of non-surgical interventions and dermal filler. Sally Taber, director of Independent Healthcare Advisory Services, says: “The report outlines a draft education and training framework, which is built around treatment modalities: botulinum toxin, dermal fillers, chemical peels and skin rejuvenation treatments, laser, intense pulsed light (IPL) and light emitting diode (LED) treatments, and hair restoration surgery.”

Also soon to be published is the European standard EN 16372 Aesthetic Surgery Services,which will provide European-wide guidelines for private plastic surgery clinics. The standard was developed to provide an improvement in the level of aesthetic surgery services to enhance patient safety and satisfaction, and reduce the risk of complications. The aim is to promote consistently high standards for aesthetic surgery service providers across Europe and the UK.

In addition, a new independent register, Save Face, has been set up to provide accreditation and regulation through robust auditing and monitoring measures, which will enable consumers to make an informed decision when selecting a practitioner to undergo non-surgical cosmetic treatments.

Emma Davies, former chair of the British Association of Cosmetic Nurses, now clinical director of Save Face says: “Whatever the government achieves from Keogh, we need a register of accredited clinics and practitioners. Without it, the consumer cannot be expected to navigate their way to a safe pair of hands with confidence. It’s time to seize this opportunity to stand up and be counted, and champion all the positives we can and should be proud of.”

With the media spotlight firmly fixed, the cosmetic procedures industry finally seems to be pulling its socks up with those who strive for excellence, working towards a common goal to ensure the public is properly protected, and educated about the risks and benefits of these procedures.