According to a report from the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, young people are turning to cosmetic procedures, such as Botox and dermal fillers, as a result of social media pressure. The report highlights increasing concerns over anxiety related to unachievable appearance ideals, with young people said to be targeted by advertising and online plastic surgery games. There are concerns that the apps are contributing to growing anxieties around body image and calls for the Government to protect people from this unregulated industry.
The report identifies several factors that are encouraging young people in particular to focus on body image. These include the rise of social media where photos can receive positive or negative ratings and the influence of celebrity culture, and apparently perfect lifestyles. Increasing numbers of young people are suffering anxiety, depression and low self-esteem as a result of a society-wide obsession with body image, say the experts.
Professor Jeanette Edwards, from the University of Manchester, who chaired the council's inquiry into ethical issues surrounding cosmetic procedures, said some games aimed at younger children had particularly alarmed the panel. "We've been shocked by some of the evidence we've seen, including make-over apps and cosmetic surgery 'games' that target girls as young as nine. There is a daily bombardment from advertising and social media channels like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat that relentlessly promote unrealistic and often discriminatory messages on how people, especially girls and women, 'should' look."
The Nuffield Council inquiry largely reinforced the findings of the 2013 Keogh report on cosmetic procedures that spoke of a “crisis waiting to happen”. The council said there should be better regulation of the materials in procedures such as dermal fillers, used to plump up cheeks and lips or fill out wrinkles and creases in the skin, which can currently be bought in Britain without a formal safety or quality approval. It also said the Government must bring forward legislation to make all dermal fillers available on prescription only.
The report urged app stores to better regulate makeover apps and online plastic surgery games aimed at children as young as nine, with names like Plastic Surgery Princess, Little Skin Doctor and Pimp My Face. GMC guidance makes clear that under-18s must only undergo a cosmetic surgery intervention if it is in their best interests, for instance if they are being bullied at school and wish to have an operation to pin their ears back or correct a cleft lip.
Elise Bevan, a solicitor in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches, said: “Cosmetic interventions are not without risk. The report voices many of the same concerns that we and other professional organisations have. It highlights that we live in a world where young people are under immense pressure on a daily basis about how they should look. It is wrong for companies to exploit this and offer unnecessary cosmetic procedures to under 18s. We need better regulation of the quality and safety of these procedures, the people who carry them out, and where they are carried out.”