Following a consultation in 2020, CAP and BCAP are introducing new targeting restrictions that prohibit cosmetic interventions advertising from being directed at under-18s.

Background to changes

Cosmetic interventions mean any intervention, procedure or treatment carried out with the primary objective of changing an aspect of a consumer’s physical appearance. This includes surgical and non-surgical interventions, both invasive and non-invasive.  Examples are breast augmentation or uplift procedures, dermal fillers and teeth whitening treatments.

Complaints to the ASA about ads for cosmetic interventions tend to cite three main issues: the risks of treatments are downplayed in those ads; concerns that these ads promote a narrow beauty ideal; and concerns that those ads place undue pressure on young people to conform to a particular ideal, at a time when they are already under considerable pressure to confirm to certain looks. Some also raise concerns about misleading claims in those ads, such as efficacy claims or pricing claims, as well as the advertising of Botox.

Children and young people are particularly vulnerable to body image pressures and negative body image perceptions can have an impact on their self-esteem, wellbeing, mental health and behaviours.

CAP and BCAP consider that there is a persuasive case for implementing the age-based targeting restrictions for cosmetic interventions advertising. In addition, they say that the new targeting restrictions would help appropriately limit children and young people’s exposure to cosmetic interventions advertising, and play a part in mitigating the potential wider body image related harms experienced by those age groups.

New rules

The new targeting restrictions will come into effect on 25 May 2022.  New rules in the CAP and BCAP Codes will essentially require that:

  • Ads for cosmetic interventions must not appear in non-broadcast media directed at under-18s;
  • Ads for cosmetic interventions must not appear in other non-broadcast media where under-18s make up over 25% of the audience; and
  • Broadcast ads for cosmetic interventions must not appear during or adjacent to programmes commissioned for, principally directed at or likely to appeal particularly to under-18s.

CAP and BCAP will conduct a 12-month post-implementation review to ensure that the new rules are functioning as intended.

CAP has also amended its guidance on cosmetic interventions to assist advertisers in understanding how to comply with the new restrictions.  The guidance reflects the new rules and clarify the types of treatments and procedures that are likely to fall within the scope of “cosmetic interventions” to which the new restrictions would apply.

The amended guidance follows a number of decisions by the Advertising Standards Authority aimed at addressing the unrealistic beauty ideals displayed on social media. With increasing evidence of the detrimental impact social media has on young people's mental health, will this be enough?