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Urgent action needed to improve safety of cosmetic treatments, say CIEH and IoL Published Date: 02/09/2020

The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) and the Institute of Licensing (IoL) have published two new reports on regulating cosmetic treatments. Cosmetic treatments are rapidly growing in popularity, but the existing regulatory regime is poorly equipped to keep the public safe.

The first report, A Fragmented Picture, sets out the legal context, including the disparities and gaps   that exist for regulating cosmetic treatments across the UK. The second report, The Ugly Side of Beauty, reveals the findings of a survey of regulators in England, who are responsible for keeping the public safe, and the serious gaps they see in the protections.

Cosmetic treatments can cause serious harm to clients if they are not carried out correctly in a safe environment. The second report, The Ugly Side of Beauty, highlights numerous examples of clients suffering severe infections, burns, allergic reactions and injuries, as a result of a procedure, sometimes leading to hospitalisation or even surgery. However, local authorities lack adequate powers to regulate these treatments. Existing requirements are inconsistent across the country and most local authorities cannot impose minimum standards on the training and competence of practitioners.

For many cosmetic procedures, anyone can set themselves up as a cosmetic practitioner, regardless of whether they are suitably qualified or competent. Legislation has changed little since the 1980s and does not even touch upon many of the newer treatments now readily available to the public, such as dermal fillers and skin rejuvenation treatments.

While it is illegal to tattoo minors or permit under 18s to use a sunbed, no legal age restrictions exist for other cosmetic treatments.

The survey findings reveal there are wide disparities in the quality and safety of services available. Without the appropriate training, some practitioners demonstrate a poor understanding of hygiene and infection control, such as reusing single-use equipment or failing to properly sterilise equipment between clients. Further problems include practitioners working in unsuitable premises, failing to conduct medical assessments before carrying out procedures and importing faulty equipment from abroad to use on clients.

To make matters worse, local authority regulators fear that not all problems are being reported because members of the public do not know where to make a complaint.

While cosmetics is a rapidly growing industry, no official data is collected on how many treatments are carried out or how many result in infection or damage to health.

CIEH and the IoL are calling for an England-wide licensing scheme for cosmetic treatments to be introduced as a matter of urgency. Such a scheme is already planned in Wales and Scotland already has a licensing scheme for piercing and tattooing businesses. A mandatory licensing scheme would ensure that all practitioners are suitably qualified and that premises meet high hygiene and safety standards.

Among environmental health and licensing practitioners, there is significant support for legislative change. 90% agree that an England-wide licensing scheme could improve the regulatory system – and 86% would welcome a new mandatory requirement for all practitioners to complete an approved infection control qualification. In the Ugly Side of Beauty, CIEH and the IoL outline a series of recommendations for the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure high standards and provide better protection for the public, including:

  • Introduce a mandatory England-wide licensing scheme for all cosmetic treatments that pose a risk to public health
  • Ensure this legislation is flexible so new treatments can be easily regulated
  • Commission the development of a standard set of licence conditions for all treatments, including training requirements
  • Introduce a mandatory requirement for all practitioners to complete an approved hygiene and infection control qualification
  • Introduce legal age limits for invasive procedures
  • Collect and monitor data on the prevalence of non-surgical cosmetic procedures, adverse events and the costs to the NHS

 Debbie Wood, CIEH Executive Director for Membership and External Affairs, said

“The existing powers available to local authorities to regulate cosmetic treatments are woefully inadequate. These treatments can cause serious harm when they go wrong so it is very alarming that poorly trained individuals are carrying out treatments on clients in unsanitary conditions.

We know that the popularity of cosmetic procedures has gone up in recent years, but the Government is not collecting any data on the scale of this industry or how often things go wrong. With an abundance of new treatments emerging on the market, local authorities desperately need new powers to check these are being carried out safely by trained and competent practitioners.

That is why we are calling for new legislation to create an England-wide licensing scheme for all non-surgical cosmetic treatments that pose a risk to public health. This will help ensure that all practitioners and premises meet a clear set of consistent standards before they open to the public.

We believe this would be a significant step towards improving the safety of cosmetic treatments.”

Daniel Davies, Chairman of the IoL, said:  

“There is an urgent need for proper regulation of beauty and cosmetic treatments across the UK.  The current system is outdated and wholly inadequate for the variety of cosmetic procedures currently offered within the aesthetics and beauty industry. 

Public health and welfare is paramount and the fragmented national regulatory regime is presently unfit for purpose.  A complete reform of licensing arrangements together with measures to raise public awareness is absolutely essential and should be progressed as soon as possible.”