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Cosmetic surgery: Covid-19 and beyond

Posted: 15/03/2021

In October 2020, the Penningtons Manches Cooper clinical negligence team published an article on the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the cosmetic and elective surgery industries, which focused on the practical and financial difficulties experienced by both the private healthcare sector and the health and beauty industry during the first UK lockdown. The article also noted the perhaps surprising trend that was starting to emerge, most notably in the US and in South Korea but also in the UK, of an increased demand for cosmetic procedures.

As the UK now begins to emerge from what is hoped will be the final lockdown, this trend shows no sign of diminishing and it seems that the desire for cosmetic surgery has only increased: not least because of the ‘Zoom effect’, where consistent use of virtual meeting platforms has led to a rise in demand for facial procedures.

In the UK, although plastic surgery was not permitted as ‘essential’ during the first lockdown, there were reports of illegal procedures being carried out by practitioners in clients’ homes. These included dermal fillers and botox injections. Making the choice to use an unqualified practitioner is extremely risky, as practitioners without medical qualifications and training may well make mistakes and not know how to deal with complications. They also may not have insurance should something go wrong.

Quite apart from the increased infection risk from Covid-19, these home visits can be extremely dangerous, especially when conducted by unqualified beauticians. Ashton Collins, director of Save Face, a national register of accredited cosmetic practitioners, told the Telegraph: “There are a whole host of complications which range from blindness to severe anaphylaxis from dermal fillers. If you did not know how to manage that, it could lead to death in the worst cases. These are the risks that people are unwittingly opening themselves up to.” (The Telegraph, 11 April 2020)

Following the end of the first lockdown, there was reported to be a boom in demand for cosmetic surgery with some clinics seeing a 100% increase in appointments in August and September 2020. This rise has been put down to several factors: people were staying at home so they had more time to recover from surgery at their own pace, and they could wear masks when out and about, allowing them to conceal healing bruises or swelling. During the present lockdown, surgeries offering cosmetic treatments are open for business, albeit with various measures in place including testing for certain appointments.

Another key factor in patients’ desire for cosmetic surgery is that working on virtual platforms, such as Zoom, has led to people becoming more self-conscious and concerned about their image as they spend far more time looking at their own faces than they ordinarily would. The effect of looking at a screen can also be unflattering and factors such as lighting and camera angles can lead people to lose confidence in their looks, resulting in increased interest in facial procedures such as those aimed at smoothing crow’s feet and jawline contouring. As more people are vaccinated and lockdown rules are relaxed over the coming months, there may start to be a decrease in the use of virtual meeting platforms so it follows that this effect might begin to decline. Alternatively, the country may only be at the start of a steep rise in demand for such procedures, which may lead to associated claims should things go wrong.

This article has been co-written with Dominik Young, a trainee solicitor in the clinical negligence team. 

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Penningtons Manches Cooper 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 under number 419867.

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