Is it suitable to advertise cosmetic surgery to under-18s?

By Michael Saul, Partner at Cosmetic Surgery Solicitors

​​Following the most recent law change in May of 2022, advertisements for cosmetic procedures are no longer allowed to target anyone under the age of 18 in the UK.

The new rule governing marketing for cosmetic operations came into action six months after first being announced back in November 2021.

The new regulations cover the marketing of practices intended to alter a person’s physical appearance and are applicable to all media outlets and their content. These cover non-invasive cosmetic procedures, like teeth whitening, as well as extensive surgery, such as breast augmentation or reduction, abdominoplasty, and nose reshaping.

This type of advertisement is prohibited by law from airing during radio or television programming that is directed toward or likely to appeal to audiences under the age of 18. These advertisements are also banned from appearing on social media platforms where the material is targeted towards an audience predominately under 18.

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) states that persistent advertising of cosmetic operations to people under the age of 18 has influenced young people’s self-perceptions of their bodies, well-being, and mental health.

In a survey asking people about their opinions on surgery, 91% of participants indicated that they ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ that there is an increase in people getting aesthetic procedures when they are too young. A further 87% of respondents either ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ that 18 was too young to make an informed decision about getting cosmetic surgery.

Young people in the UK today are experiencing a crisis of self-esteem due to the unrealistic body image standards they are constantly exposed to. Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), which can result in additional mental and physical health problems like anorexia and depression, affects a lot of young people.

BDD patients who feel compelled to undergo cosmetic surgery often do so because they feel that doing so will help them deal with underlying mental and emotional problems. Cosmetic surgery is not always the answer to these issues, and people who are self-conscious about their appearance are not usually satisfied with the results because the outcomes they want are usually not achievable.

Unfortunately, choosing to undergo cosmetic surgery can often lead to further critical self-perception, and the subsequent desire to receive more surgery, which can quickly spiral into an addiction. Those who experience mental health issues like anxiety are particularly susceptible to the effects of expectations over their appearance.

Cosmetic Surgery Solicitors has long advocated for this law reform, and we are happy to see it take effect.

The legislation amendment is a much-needed step in the right direction, but it still falls short of adequately shielding young people — mostly members of Generation Z or younger — from the negative emotional impacts that obtaining aesthetic operations at a young age can have.

We are requesting that the government take this a step further by outlawing all cosmetic operations, including surgery and non-invasive ones, for people under the age of 21, unless there is a medical necessity.

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