On 2 September 2023, the UK government launched its first-ever consultation on non-surgical cosmetic procedures. Last year the Health and Care Act 2022 called for these treatments to become licensed. The consultation includes the proposal of a new traffic light licensing scheme and a minimum age of consent.
Cosmetic (non-surgical) procedures cover a wide range of treatments including botulinum toxin injections (such as Botox), laser hair removal, chemical peels, tattoo removal, dermal fillers, skin lightening and permanent make-up. The majority of these treatments are carried out in the private sector and often by those without medical training. The treatments have exploded in popularity over the past few years, no doubt influenced by social media and celebrities sharing their lifestyles, with the cosmetics and personal care industry now estimated to be worth £24.5 billion in the UK alone.
What Procedures Are Covered?
Under the Health and Care Act 2022, “Cosmetic procedures” means:
- the injection of a substance;
- the application of a substance that is capable of penetrating into or through the epidermis;
- the insertion of needles into the skin;
- the placing of threads under the skin; and
- the application of light, electricity, cold or heat.
The definition is purposefully broad, to capture any new treatments and procedures that might crop up in the future. Surgical and dental procedures are regulated separately and are not covered by the definition above. Procedures such as tattooing, piercing or acupuncture, which are already required to be registered with their local authority under the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982, are excluded (however, tattoo removal is caught).
The consultation proposes a new licensing scheme, under which providers of some non-surgical cosmetic procedures would need to be registered. Some activities would need to be performed by regulated healthcare professionals, which are listed in the consultation to include nurses, designated allied health professionals, dentists, doctors, and pharmacists.
The proposed licensing scheme would operate through a traffic light scheme, reflecting the degree of risk posed by each specific procedure:
- “Green” procedures would be those with the lowest risk of complications. These would require registration, but can be performed by non-healthcare professionals, provided they meet agreed standards.
- “Green” procedures would include microneedling, chemical peels, “no needle” fillers and non-ablative laser hair removal.
- “Amber” procedures would be those with modest risks of complications. These would require any non-healthcare professional to be licensed and to have oversight by a named regulated healthcare professional. Healthcare professionals can perform “Amber” procedures without the need to register, provided they meet agreed standards.
- “Amber” procedures include many forms of injections including botulinum toxin injections, semi-permanent dermal fillers, electrocautery, and “fat freezing” cryotherapy.
- “Red” procedures are those with the highest risk of complications. Under the proposals, non-healthcare professionals would be banned from carrying out these procedures. These will only be able to be carried out by qualified and regulated healthcare professionals.
- “Red” procedures include hair restoration surgery, deep chemical peels (such as phenol peels), breast and buttock augmentation procedures, and all intravenous injectables and infusions such as IV vitamin drips.
The government is seeking views on the categories and procedures proposed above.
Minimum Age of Consent
The consultation also seeks views on introducing a new age of consent, making it an offence to undertake any non-surgical cosmetic procedures, regardless of their category, on anyone under the age of 18.
Under the Botulinum Toxin and Cosmetic Fillers (Children) Act 2021, it is already an offence to administer botulinum toxin injections or any other filler by way of injection for cosmetic purposes to anyone under 18. These procedures can be performed on minors by healthcare professionals, provided the procedure is approved by a doctor. The proposal would expand the offence to all non-surgical cosmetic procedures performed on anyone under 18.
The consultation seeks views on whether the age of consent should apply to all procedures or only a selection (or indeed none at all).
This is a major landmark for the beauty industry, which will likely have major repercussions (good and bad) in the years to come.
For many in the industry, the proposed changes will be welcome news. The majority of those active in the industry already operate with incredibly high standards of hygiene and training and the changes will eliminate any competitive advantage gained by those cutting corners in ways that impact customer safety. It can only serve to further bolster the reputation of the industry, by reducing the risk of adverse consequences.
However, it’s important that any regulation strikes the right balance. Unnecessary restrictions will hamper the industry and push up costs for consumers. We encourage our clients and those in industry to engage with the consultation and ensure that the procedures are properly categorised based on risk and your experiences in practice.
If you would like to feed into the consultation, you can do so here. The deadline for submissions is 28 October 2023. Please get in touch if you need further help or guidance.