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The legalities of cosmetic surgery for under-18s

The legalities of cosmetic surgery for under-18s is discussed here by Michael Saul, Partner at Cosmetic Surgery Solicitors.

After the most recent law change took effect in May 2022, advertisements for cosmetic operations in the UK are no longer permitted to specifically target individuals under the age of 18.

The new regulation governing cosmetic procedures went into effect six months after it was initially announced in November 2021.

The new rules apply to all media sources and their content and involve the promotion of procedures meant to change a person’s outward appearance. These cover both minimally invasive cosmetic surgeries – like teeth whitening – and major ones like breast augmentation or reduction, abdominoplasty, and nose reshaping.

It is illegal for this kind of advertising to run during radio or television shows that are intended for or likely to appeal to audiences under the age of 18. Additionally, these adverts are prohibited from appearing on social media channels where the audience is mostly under 18.

According to the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), frequent marketing of cosmetic procedures to people under the age of 18 has affected how adolescents view their bodies, physical and mental health.

In a survey asking people about their opinions on surgery, 91% of survey respondents who were asked about their perspectives on surgery said they “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that more people are receiving aesthetic operations 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.

Due to the unrealistic body image standards they are continuously exposed to, young people in the UK are currently going through a crisis of self-esteem. Many young people suffer from body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), which can lead to additional mental and physical health issues like anorexia and depression.

Patients with BDD who feel pressured to have cosmetic surgery often do so because they believe it will help them deal with underlying mental and emotional issues. People who are self-conscious about their appearance are typically dissatisfied with the results since the outcomes they want are frequently unachievable, and cosmetic surgery is not always the solution to these problems.

Unfortunately, electing to have cosmetic surgery frequently results in a more negative image of oneself and a subsequent desire to have additional surgery, which may quickly develop into an addiction. Expectations about their looks can have an especially negative impact on people who suffer from mental health conditions like anxiety.

Cosmetic Surgery Solicitors has long supported this legal change, so we are pleased to see it come into force.

The legislation amendment is a much-needed step in the right direction, but it still falls short of fully protecting young people — primarily members of Generation Z or younger — from the potentially damaging emotional effects of having aesthetic procedures at a young age.

We are asking the government to go further and restrict any cosmetic procedures, including surgical and non-invasive ones, for anyone under the age of 21, unless they are absolutely necessary for medical reasons.

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