In this guest blog, Chartered Environmental Health Practitioner Victor Ktorakis MCIEH CEnvH, sheds light on regulation, and lack thereof, in the beauty industry. 

Beauty treatments have come along way since 1982, the year that saw the Local Government Miscellaneous Provisions Act 1982 come into force.

It gave local authorities powers to ‘regulate’ some of the most invasive treatments which were popular at the time namely Acupuncture, tattooing, ear piercing and electrolysis. It requires anyone wishing to offer one of the treatments to be registered with their respective authorities and allowed those authorities to make by-laws for the purpose of securing public safety. But what legislative changes have there been since then? The answer is not many, at least not until 1991.

1991 saw the introduction of a new piece of legislation, the London Local Authorities Act 1991. This gave additional regulatory powers to those boroughs within London that adopted the Act including the power to prescribe standard terms, conditions and restrictions. This however led to a somewhat unhelpful unstandardised approach across London as each local authority prescribed its own conditions.

There was now a definition of what an ‘establishment for special treatment’ was and the number of treatments that required licensing grew. Treatments now included massage, manicure, acupuncture, tattooing, cosmetic piercing, chiropody, light, electric or other special treatment of a like kind or vapour, sauna or other baths. 

The ‘like kind’ part of the definition is quite useful as it allows local authorities to fill in some of the gaps. Examples of like kind treatments include nail extensions, Laser and IPL treatments, electrolysis, microcurrent therapy etc. Surely this now covered everything. Or did it? Until recently (last 7 years or so), most of the treatments offered on the high street would have fallen into one of the categories above.

However, high demand from the consumer for ‘better’ more dramatic results has meant that the average beauty therapist has had to broaden their services to offer more invasive treatments that used to be reserved for the likes of cosmetic surgeons.

The beauty industry now has an abundance of non-surgical cosmetic treatments that are available on the high street, many of which do not fall within the definition of a registerable or licensable treatment, which means that they are currently unregulated. Examples of such treatments include chemical skin peels, mesotherapy, fillers, micro needling and the list goes on. There are quite possibly as many unregulated treatments available on the market as there are regulated ones.

The number of treatments being introduced is also surpassing the number of nationally recognised qualifications available for those treatments. This means that in many cases the level of training offered falls well below the standard required to provide them safely. 

So, if they are unregulated who checks that they are carried out safely or that the therapist is suitably qualified? The frightening answer is that there is no requirement for anyone to check and in most cases nobody does. The reason for this is that in the absence of any direct regulation, most local authorities will only respond reactively to complaints or accident and injury notifications that they receive from those that have had a treatment that has gone wrong.

Local authorities often have no choice but to use current health and safety legislation to deal with the issues reactively rather than proactively and anecdotal evidence shows that the general public tend not to complain to their local authorities. This is probably largely due to the public not knowing who they should complain to in the first instance.

I often get asked in my role as an Environmental Health Practitioner if there is a need for new direct legislation. The answer to this, in my opinion, is YES. Current legislation is outdated and doesn’t cover the plethora of treatments that are and will be offered in the 21st century. Local Authority officers need to have direct powers to stop an unlicensed or untrained therapist from carrying out treatments.

There needs to be a standardised approach in relation to the level and standard of qualification required for the treatments and further regulation of the training providers.  There is a need for a statutory register for practitioners and approved training providers (the Joint Council for Cosmetic Practitioners (JCCP) currently provide a voluntary register). The new legislation must also be ‘future proof’ to allow for the continued regulation of the exponentially growing beauty and non-surgical aesthetics industry.

So, will any of this happen? There has been an increase in political interest surrounding non-surgical cosmetic treatments. There have already been a couple of parliamentary debates on the matter and it is said that an All-Party Parliamentary Group is being set up on the subject.  

I am hopeful that a positive change to current regulation is on the horizon that will improve public awareness and safety.

Check out the new RSPH Level 2 qualification in Infection Prevention and Control for Special Procedures Practitioners which is now available for delivery by centres.