Niamh McDade

Niamh McDade, Senior Campaigns and Communications Executive at RSPH, explores the rise of non-surgical cosmetic procedures and the risks they bring in our current system.

While tattoos and piercings have long been popular in the UK, as revealed in the Skins and Needles report published by RSPH in 2019, there has been a surge in uptake of equally invasive non-surgical cosmetic procedures, such as dermal fillers, in recent years.

Most dermal fillers used in the UK contain a natural substance called hyaluronic acid, which can be injected into the face to fill lines and wrinkles and add volume to areas such as your lips or cheeks. They are not permanent and their longevity depends on the type of filler and where it's injected, yet in parallel to the growth of the social media influencer, lip fillers in particular have become a craze. #Fillers, #LoveIslandLips, and the phenomenon that is 21-year-old Kylie Jenner, who built her billion dollar beauty empire off the back off her plumped look, have certainly played a role in boosting this industry to an estimated worth of £2.75 billion in the UK alone. 

It is clear the fillers industry is big business, yet legislation has failed to catch-up. Sponsored ‘before and after’ posts of celebrities on image focused platforms such as Instagram have allowed the industry behind this trend to advertise ‘quick fix’ solutions to young and vulnerable social media users. This coupled with the fact that non-invasive surgical procedures remain completely legal for under 18s, makes dermal fillers “a crisis waiting to happen”. Backed by 87% of the UK public therefore, RSPH is calling for all UK governments to implement legislation to make non-surgical cosmetic procedures illegal for under 18s and, in addition for the Committee on Advertising Practice to review how adverts for cosmetic procedures are targeted and at what age groups. 

Moreover, the Skins and Needles report sheds light on the lack of standard legal requirement across the UK in infection control for anyone offering invasive special procedures. As it stands, anyone can set up shop without appropriate training, and as you can see in this video, RSPH staff did so in London to highlight just how easy it is. Worryingly, without the appropriate training, some providers are putting customers at risk of infection. RSPH research found that based on a national survey of people who had at least one special procedure in the previous five years, of those who reported having had a negative side effect, a staggering one in ten required medical treatment, and one in five people are still at very real risk of sepsis and other complications from procedures. 

On this basis, RSPH is calling for all UK health systems to bring in a requirement for an infection control qualification as part of licensing, for infections linked to special procedures to be included in the list of notifiable diseases that must be reported to local councils or local health protection teams, and for all UK governments to review their special procedures legislation to include non-surgical cosmetic procedures such as dermal fillers.

It must be said that a wide range of practitioners across the UK are fit for purpose, and do offer services in a clean, hygienic environment and have received adequate training. However, industry lip service from isn’t enough – we must fill the legislative gap and it is vital that the UK wider legislation and regulation of providers of these services is fit for purpose and adequately protects the public’s health.

You can find out more about the RSPH Level 2 Award in Infection Prevention and Control here. This qualification covers the principles of infection control through application of the ‘chain of infection’ and the ‘standard infection control precautions’. The purpose of this qualification is for learners to obtain a knowledge and understanding of; the importance of infection control and prevention, associated infectious and non-infectious hazards, good infection practice and controls based upon an awareness of the chain of infection and standard infection control precautions.