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Government launches consultation on licensing of non-surgical cosmetic procedures

Posted on 16 November 2023

Growing accessibility and affordability and promotion on social media have seen a significant rise in the use of non-surgical cosmetic procedures.  

However, there are currently few restrictions on who is able to perform many non-surgical cosmetic procedures. This lack of regulation comes with a host of serious risks, both physical and emotional for consumers, and also affects practitioners who hold themselves to a high standard of competence and compliance and find themselves in direct competition with the seemingly underqualified.

To address growing concern, the Department for Health and Social Care launched an 8-week consultation  in September this year through which they sought public feedback on the scope of a proposed licensing scheme for specific non-surgical cosmetic procedures in England. The proposed scheme seeks to introduce licensing requirements for individual practitioners as well as the premises they operate from. It is proposed that the scheme will be operated by local authorities.

This licensing scheme aims to address the lack of sufficient regulation in the non-surgical cosmetics sector and will potentially cover a range of 'higher-risk' aesthetic treatments to protect consumers from the potentially harmful effects of receiving treatments from underqualified or non-compliant practitioners, while restoring confidence in the sector and putting businesses on a level playing field by introducing uniformity across industry-wide standards.

The consultation, which closed on 28 October 2023, sought the public's views regarding the following:

  • which treatments should be included within the scope of the licensing scheme;
  • the restrictions that should be placed on which practitioners should be permitted to perform certain procedures (for instance, should a procedure only be carried out by a qualified and registered healthcare professional or under their clinical supervision); and
  • whether any age restrictions should apply for those receiving the procedures.  

Once implemented, it will be interesting to see how the licensing scheme will work in practice, particularly in light of the apparent lack of resources available to a number of local authorities. Verifying compliance with the prescribed standards may be onerous and may prove to be difficult to do in practical terms.

Sandra Moore, a Chartered Environmental Health Practitioner with over 30 years of experience and currently the Technical Director of Hygenisys Environmental Health Consultancy, is currently establishing a new salon safety hygiene rating system to be rolled out by subject matter experts in conjunction with local authorities. The hygiene rating scheme is intended to run alongside and be complementary to the proposed licensing scheme, as there are certain businesses such as nail and lash technicians, massage parlours and spas which will not be covered by the licensing scheme (though it is nonetheless important that such businesses too are monitored for compliance).

The aim of the hygiene rating scheme, similar to the licensing scheme, is to build customer confidence so that customers can easily check compliance and be assured that the relevant establishment adheres to high standards when it comes to health and safety, infection control and hygiene. Simultaneously, the expectation is that this will encourage innovation and economic growth within the local community by promoting businesses who do have robust systems in place.

This scheme comes at a time when we are seeing a general shift in the UK towards personal accountability and smarter regulation. A stricter approach to regulation has clearly had an impact in other sectors, such as food, healthcare and building safety. The approach to health and safety in the UK has historically been to hold organisations to account, and then seek accountability from individuals: it appears inevitable that the beauty industry will follow suit. In the future, we can probably expect to see criminal sanctions such as fines and, in the worst cases, imprisonment being imposed against rogue practitioners who have simply exposed their customers to the risk of harm, not just physical injury. This is in addition to the potential civil remedies that might be available for those who have suffered some personal injury as a result of these treatments.  Therefore, the only way to establish a safe and robust non-surgical treatment regime is for both practitioners and the regulators to adopt a proactive and preventive approach to safety, which is likely to include risk mitigation strategies such as the licensing scheme and ratings to demonstrate competency benchmarks. Those who are in the beauty industry should seek advice on the legal and practical impact of these regimes now before they become a reality.

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