Don’t waste it! Cosmetic surgery ads targeting those under 18 are prohibited


Following a public consultation last year, the Committee on Advertising Practices (CAP) and the Committee on Broadcast Advertising Practices (BCAP) announced new targeting restrictions that prohibit cosmetic intervention advertising from being directed under 18 years old. These new restrictions have now been in effect since May 25.

Regulations regarding ads promoting cosmetic surgery to teens and young adults have come a long way since 2018, when an ad for breast augmentation at a cosmetic surgery clinic aired during the commercial break of Love Island. The ad for MYA had a voiceover saying “these girls have had breast enlargements with MYA and all of them feel amazing”. The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) accepted the complaints, including one from the Mental Health Foundation, and banned the advertisement. They said this ad portrayed women who had undergone breast augmentation procedures in a positive light and implied that women were only happy with their bodies because they had undergone surgery.

Following this, the ASA toughened up its approach to advertisements aimed at those under 18 and in November 2021 CAP and BCAP announced that “Due to the inherent risks of cosmetic procedure procedures and the potential appeal of these services to young people struggling with body confidence issues, it is important that we set the bar necessarily high in terms of marketing” (Shahriar Coupal, director of CAP). The ban now in place means companies can no longer advertise procedures such as breast enhancements, nose jobs, dermal fillers, skin rejuvenation treatments, chemical peels, laser or light and teeth whitening products to under 18s on social media, advertisements during TV breaks or any other media that will appeal to under 18s.

It is already illegal to perform cosmetic procedures on those under 18, but there has never been a restriction on their advertising.

The new targeting restrictions essentially require that:

  • advertisements for cosmetic procedures must not appear in non-broadcast media aimed at those under 18;
  • advertisements for cosmetic procedures must not appear in other non-audiovisual media where those under the age of 18 represent more than 25% of the audience; and
  • advertisements broadcast for cosmetic procedures must not appear during or adjacent to commissioned programs that are primarily intended or likely to be of particular interest to those under 18 years of age.

CAP and BCAP will conduct a 12-month post-implementation review to verify the operation of the new rules and ensure that they have the intended intentions. They released an update Tips on the marketing of surgical and non-surgical aesthetic procedures to reflect the new restrictions (CAP Code Rule 12.25 and BCAP Code Rule 32.2.9).

With the new regulations taking effect just weeks before the start of next season of Love Island, influencers and contestants are likely to have a closer look at their social media posts. Earlier this year, the ASA named and shamed former Love Island contestants, including Gabby Allen, Anna Vakili and Belle Hassan, for not clearly labeling their posts as advertisements (please see our article here for more information), the ASA uploading sponsored advertisements to alert consumers. The ASA also got a ‘Checklist‘ for the Love Island contestants, which covers some of their responsible social media advertising rules, highlighting how seriously the ASA cracks down on influencer marketing.

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