'Consumer beware' warning on the dangers of non-surgical cosmetic treatments and unqualified practitioners

Posted: 09/09/2015


The demand for non-surgical cosmetic procedures continues to surge and nine out of ten cosmetic procedures performed in the UK are now non-surgical treatments such as Botox, chemical peels and dermal fillers. It used to be the case that, if you wanted cosmetic treatment, you sought the advice of a plastic surgeon who practised in a clinic or hospital setting. But with the increase in popularity of non-surgical treatments and the huge expansion of the market, a wealth of cosmetic procedures are being offered on the high-street in beauty salons, hairdressers, hotels and by mobile practitioners.

This unfortunately means that there are unlicensed clinics without trained practitioners and the correct insurance, creating a very real risk of serious injury for potential customers. Consequently, the Penningtons Manches specialist cosmetic surgery team is receiving an increasing number of enquiries about injuries caused during non-surgical cosmetic treatments performed by people without the necessary qualifications, training or experience. 

Consumer beware - you get what you pay for

Non-surgical treatment is often considered to be a cheaper, 'quick fix' alternative to traditional cosmetic surgery. We have all heard about treatments that can be squeezed into your lunch break, questionable advertising for cut price deals, limited time only offers, and Botox parties.

But our advice is 'consumer beware'. As non-surgical and minor cosmetic procedures become more mainstream, people seem less concerned about the associated risks and many are not aware that what they consider to be 'safe' procedures can cause serious injury.

Regardless of where a treatment is performed, there will always be risks and potential complications. Consumers need to be clued up about those risks and take all possible steps to reduce the chance of serious injury.

When considering any type of cosmetic treatment, consumers must do their research to find reputable salons with the correct licence and appropriately trained staff. While this may mean pricier treatments, the phrase 'you get what you pay for' is not just a truism but a warning worth listening to. Imagine having a facial treatment that left you severely scarred or suffering from facial palsy. Is a saving of £50 worth the risk?

What's on offer?

Beauty clinics and other high street premises offer a wide range of non-surgical treatments including laser hair removal, microdermabrasion and chemical peels - all of which can cause serious burns and scarring.

Facial filler injections, which are considered to be a minor cosmetic procedure, are totally unregulated so there are no restrictions and anyone on the high street can inject them. Incorrect placement of facial fillers can cause swelling, pain, hard lumps beneath the skin and, when injected into the retinal artery, can even cause blindness and strokes. If fillers are injected into blood vessels or too much filler is injected around blood vessels, it can cause compression which stops the blood flow to surrounding tissue and causes the cells to die.

Many people do not realise that such a common-place procedure can have serious complications and that there is a very real risk of permanent disfigurement if fillers are injected by someone without the correct training. Once poorly placed, fillers can be very difficult to remove and, in some cases, the only option is to cut them out leaving serious facial scarring. 

Probably the most well-known and publicised cosmetic treatment offered by beauty salons is Botox. As a prescription-only medicine, Botox must be administered by a licensed health professional but we have previously written about the availability of black market Botox and the risks associated with ncorrect placement or overuse of this paralysing toxin.

Although popular and familiar, Botox and facial fillers are old news in this evolving market with the availability of more unusual treatments increasing almost daily. Over the last 12 months, we have looked at vampire facials, ancient Egyptian facials, 'Cinderella' foot treatments and, most recently, Vontouring, a vaginal contouring procedure which mimics the effects of a labiaplasty using thermal energy and non-surgical techniques.

Demand for certification and regulation

With the increasing availability of such a wide range of cosmetic procedures, consumers now have so many options that seeking the desired treatment from a qualified practitioner has become a minefield. But how do you choose the most appropriate treatment for your particular needs and weigh up the associated risks?

We advise that anyone considering any form of cosmetic treatment should do their research thoroughly and seek advice from an appropriately trained, insured and licensed professional.

When considering surgical procedures, any qualified doctor can perform plastic surgery without any additional training and this can obviously be a potential danger to patients. There has been ongoing demand for regulation and, following the review led by Sir Bruce Keogh, the Royal College of Surgeons is now working on certification protocols to identify the surgeons with the skills and experience required to perform cosmetic surgery.  

Health Education England (HEE) is also working with regulators and Royal Colleges to review the qualifications required for delivery of non-surgical cosmetic procedures and to draft an education and training framework. This will cover the five cosmetic treatment modalities of Botulinum toxin injections; dermal filler injections; chemical peels and skin rejuvenation treatments (mesotherapy and microneedling); laser, intense pulsed light (IPL) and light emitting diode (LED) treatments; and hair restoration surgery.

While this is an important step, there is still concern that the proposals do not go far enough. Some organisations are compiling voluntary registers of non-surgical cosmetic practitioners who are thoroughly vetted by doctors before being accredited so that consumers can have confidence in selecting a reputable clinic and a competent practitioner to perform their non-surgical cosmetic treatments.

When the pursuit of beauty goes wrong

Sarah Gubbins, associate in the Penningtons Manches London cosmetics team, confirmed: “Although many outlets offering cosmetic procedures will have medically trained staff, there are people without any qualifications or insurance who want a slice of this profitable market. They will perform procedures without regard for the health and safety of their customers, often prioritising the quantity of patients over the quality of the treatment provided.

“Serious difficulties can arise when the potential defendant in a claim for negligence does not have the appropriate insurance as this means that there is limited recourse for compensation and the injured customer can be left unable to claim for their suffering and losses.

“People assume that non-surgical cosmetic procedures are less risky but, if carried out incorrectly, they can have devastating consequences. This is particularly distressing for patients who have treatments which cannot easily be reversed or facial treatments where the side effects cannot be easily covered up.

“Unfortunately, we have seen a substantial increase in the number of potential claims for negligent non-surgical or minor cosmetic treatments, often performed by beauticians and other individuals lacking the appropriate training and insurance.”

Anyone concerned about the treatment they have received can call our specialist cosmetic surgery team for a free ‘no obligation’ chat on 0800 328 9545 or make an enquiry via our cosmetic surgery page on the website.


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Penningtons Manches LLP

Penningtons Manches LLP is a limited liability partnership registered in England and Wales with registered number OC311575 and is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. San Francisco is an associated office.

Penningtons Manches LLP