Cosmetic surgery ads aimed at under-18s to be banned in UK

Cosmetic surgery clinics are to be banned from targeting adverts for procedures such as breast enlargement, nose jobs and liposuction at under-18s, in a crackdown by the UK advertising watchdog.

New rules will bar ads on all media – ranging from social media sites such as Facebook, TikTok and Instagram to billboards and posters, newspapers, magazines and radio as well as social influencer marketing – that are aimed at under-18s or likely to have a particular appeal to that age group.

The changes come into force from May and follow a consultation by the Committee for Advertising Practice (Cap), which writes the codes that all UK advertisers have to follow.

It launched the consultation, which investigated the potential harm such ads can have on young people’s mental health and the issue of body image pressure, after noting the “concerns expressed by senior NHS and public health figures”.

While it is illegal to perform cosmetic procedures on under-18s, there have been no restrictions on advertising to them, unlike the controls that exist around the marketing of junk food products, alcohol and gambling.

In 2018, the Advertising Standards Authority, which enforces the UK ad code, received complaints about a breast surgery ad run by MYA clinic that featured in the ad breaks on Love Island when watched on its ITV Hub streaming service.

The clip, which featured women in bikinis partying around a swimming pool, on a beach and a boat, was widely criticised and was later banned by the ASA. Complainants included the Mental Health Foundation, which said the ad created an aspirational link between surgery, body confidence and happiness.

“Because of the inherent risks of cosmetic intervention procedures, and the potential appeal of these services to young people struggling with body confidence issues, it is important we set the bar necessarily high in terms of marketing,” said Shahriar Coupal, the director of the Committee of Advertising Practice.

“The new rules will ensure ads can’t be targeted at under-18s and, where children and young people do see them, our strict rules mean the ads can’t mislead or otherwise exploit the vulnerabilities of their audience.”

The ban will not affect ads for cosmetics such as creams, makeup, lotions, face masks, tanning or hair products.

Earlier this year, the ASA named and shamed social media stars including Jodie Marsh, Chloe Khan, Lucy Mecklenburgh and Chloe Ferry for repeatedly flouting rules requiring them to tell followers when they were being paid to promote a product or service in a post.

In recent years the ASA has also cracked down on gender stereotyping in ads and abolished overt airbrushing, which has led to major beauty adverts featuring celebrities including Cara Delevingne, Natalie Portman and Julia Roberts being banned. The ASA has also banned ads featuring “unhealthily thin” models.

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