From 1 July 2023 new ‘Guidelines for registered medical practitioners who advertise cosmetic surgery’ will apply. These guidelines were developed by the Medical Board of Australia and will be in force in every state and territory in Australia.
Changes to the guidelines for advertising cosmetic surgery
The new guidelines state that good practice cosmetic surgery advertising will give balanced and accurate information, shows realistic results, presents the risks and recovery processes of surgery, makes it clear that outcomes will depend on the characteristics of the individual seeking surgery, and presents normal body variation positively.
Firstly, we want to say how much we welcome the introduction of these guidelines. For too long, cosmetic surgery has been associated with unhelpful stereotypes perpetuated by people in the industry using sexualised images, inappropriate language, and minimising the seriousness of surgery. Hopefully, we will start to see respectful and professional website and social media presences by all surgeons who perform cosmetic surgery and over time a public understanding of the industry that reflects its helpful and professional side.
What changes should you see across websites and social media for every surgeon that performs cosmetic surgery?
Information must include the medical practitioner’s registration number and their registration type. This will make searching the qualifications of the practitioners you are considering easier – you will be able to see what qualifications they hold to help you determine if they are qualified to perform the surgery you are considering. For example,
Dr Gary Avery (MED0001633092) Registered medical practitioner, specialist plastic surgeon (specialist registration in surgery - plastic surgery).
Testimonials or positive comments from patients that are about the experience of, the reason for or the outcome of surgery, or statements about the skills or experience of the medical practitioner are not allowed. This does NOT include comments or statements about the customer experience in general, for example, the team were wonderful throughout my journey or Dr Avery was kind and compassionate. This includes comments on social media – all comments that reference anything clinical in nature must be deleted, while those that are more about the general customer experience are okay.
Additionally, statements from patients ‘cannot create unrealistic expectations of beneficial treatment’. While scientific reviews and meta-analysis that have found some evidence for psychological benefit from cosmetic surgery1, within the context of social media and other advertising, it may not be suitable to reference specific instances of, for example, increases in confidence and feeling happier after surgery.
Sharing of patient stories and posts is not allowed if they refer to any of the clinical aspects of their surgical journey.
Posting of gifts received from patients, including flowers or food such as chocolates or cakes, is not allowed.
Reviews on sites managed by the medical practitioner were never allowed. And interacting or being affiliated with third party sites that have reviews is not allowed (e.g., facebook groups).
Anyone who users ‘influencers’ is responsible for their advertising, which is governed by these same guidelines.
Before and after photographs must be used together, with specific requirements that highlight the clinical nature of these photographs and both the consent and privacy of patients in them.
Photographs and imagery must not:
- Contain gratuitous nudity, including photos of patients in lingerie
- Use icons and emojis to cover body parts
- Be on the beach, by a pool, on a bed or in a bedroom or hotel
- Have captions that idealise cosmetic surgery like ‘hot’ or ‘younger’
- Name patients or link to their social accounts
Information about the risks of surgery and recovery information should be easily available to people exploring cosmetic surgery.
Cosmetic surgery must not be trivialised:
- No imagery should trivialise cosmetic surgery being performed. For example, music and dancing or voiceovers that are not educational
- Use words like ‘artistry’, ‘simple’, ‘quick’, ‘safe’, or ‘transformation’
- Use colloquial terms like ‘tummy tuck’ without also using their medical terms (abdominoplasty)
Advertising must not use words that imply normal change (e.g., post-pregnancy) or variation is undesirable. For example, terms like ‘problem area’, ‘flabby’ ‘bulges’. Nor imply that wellbeing will suffer without cosmetic surgery. For example, using words like ‘restore’, ‘youthful’, ‘best version of yourself’.
Non-clinical terminology like ‘work of art’, ‘magic’, and ‘sculpt’ are also not allowed.
These requirements apply to all surgeons who perform cosmetic surgery and all practitioners who perform non-surgical cosmetic procedures. For further information please visit AHPRA Cosmetic Surgery Hub
Kam et al., reviewed articles “published through October 2021 to answer the question, "Does cosmetic surgery improve a patient's overall psychological health?" Psychological well-being was examined through the lens of body image, self-esteem, anxiety, and depression scores. The studies revealed that although cosmetic surgery seems to boost patients' body image, other crucial aspects of psychological well-being may or may not similarly benefit. Notably, factors such as a patient's preoperative mental status, level of education, type of cosmetic procedure, postoperative healing time, sex, and age play a role in determining the direction and magnitude of psychological change after surgery.”
A meta-analysis completed in 2022 by Kazeminia et al., “aimed to determine the effect of cosmetic surgery on self-esteem and body image by looking at articles published between 2001 and 2019, including 23 articles (13 on self-esteem and 10 on body image). The initial studies included in the meta-analysis had samples of 1232 in the self-esteem intervention group and 1083 in the body image intervention group. This study’s findings indicate that cosmetic surgery improves self-esteem and body image.”
Kam, O., Na, S., La Sala, M., Tejeda, C. I., & Koola, M. M. (2022). The Psychological Benefits of Cosmetic Surgery. The Journal of nervous and mental disease, 210(7), 479–485. https://doi.org/10.1097/NMD.0000000000001477
Kazeminia, M., Salari, N., Heydari, M., & Akbari, H. (2022). The effect of cosmetic surgery on self-esteem and body image: a systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trial studies. European Journal of Plastic Surgery, (9-10), 1-9. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/362093888_The_effect_of_cosmetic_surgery_on_self-esteem_and_body_image_a_systematic_review_and_meta-analysis_of_clinical_trial_studies