Under the influence of the mass media nowadays, the word 'beauty' has become synonymous to attractive physical appearance. From using easy-to-apply cosmetic products to undergoing complex aesthetic procedures, people have been pursuing their ideal states of beauty at all cost.

Between 'medical beauty service' and 'beauty service' - the danger of crossing the line


The beauty industry in Hong Kong has seen an alarming surge in the use of invasive procedures in the recent years. However, the legislation in regulating the industry has failed to keep up with the industry growth. In addition, Hong Kong has been lagging behind international standards on medical beauty services.

The current lack of a legal definition in Hong Kong that separates ‘beauty service’ from ‘medical beauty service’ means that anyone without proper licensing or training could carry out potentially risky procedures.

Reasons for undergoing medical beauty services (Sources: Consumer Council)
Reasons for undergoing medical beauty services (Sources: Consumer Council)

Numerous fatal cases resulting from such dangerous procedures were seen over the past several years. In 2012, one woman died and three were critically ill due to a blood-transfusion therapy they received at a beauty clinic. Two years later in 2014, a 32-year old dance teacher lost consciousness and eventually died after she underwent liposuction at a hair transplant centre.

Additionally, just last year, ten consumer developed botulism after they received botox injection, suffering from severe symptoms such as difficulties in standing, walking, swallowing, speaking and breathing.

Despite the high risk in undergoing these kinds of medical treatment, people still have yet to learn the lessons.

Black sheep of the medical beauty service industry


Apart from the life threatening consequences, some salons were discovered to use unethical and intimidating sales pitches to ensnare unsuspecting customers.

In early 2016, several staff posed as professional ‘therapists’ and took a total of HK$5 million from seven cancer patients, who were only given oxygen-inhalation and infrared light treatments. They were even told to carry a magnet with them at all times to cure their cancer.

Complaints on medical beauty services (Complaint statistics in medical beauty services such as application of high energy and invasive procedures, Sources: Consumer Council)
Complaints on medical beauty services (Complaint statistics in medical beauty services such as application of high energy and invasive procedures, Sources: Consumer Council)

In November of the same year, an undercover police officer posed as a customer and arrested a beautician and the director of the beauty centre as they claimed they could offer traditional moxibustion therapy to help women get pregnant. The beautician was later confirmed not a qualified or registered Chinese medicine practitioner.

Consumers are exposed to the risk of undergoing medical beauty service due to a lack of legal framework

 

In 2016, the Consumer Council of Hong Kong carried out an intensive research on a study group of 1,004 survey participants aged between 15-64 years old to explore ways to enhance consumer protection of medical beauty services. Some highlights below:

• 35 medical beauty procedures have been identified to have potential safety concerns. Laser therapy, the most popular medical beauty service ever used according to the survey, is also included in the list.
• 20.1% of all study participants have used medical beauty services before.
• 52.5% used at least once a month.
• 91.3% users had high-risk procedures that should have been performed by a medical professional, had them done by beauticians instead.

The Consumer Council urged the government to draft a new legislation in order to effectively curb unnecessary mishaps in the medical beauty industry.

Introducing the Accredited Registers Scheme (AR Scheme) to regulate the unregulated services

Last year, the Hong Kong government introduced the Accredited Registers Scheme (AR Scheme) for 15 types of allied healthcare professionals. It was established in attempt to protect the public from unrecognized services offered by suspicious ‘therapists’.

In a recent ruling early this year, the Food and Health Bureau has banned beauticians from freely operating fifteen beauty instruments. These devices were categorised into four risk categories. Seven of those were deemed high-risk, meaning that they can only be operated by a doctor or under doctor supervision. However, this was met by strong opposition from the beauty industry.

Beauticians rage against proposed government regulation

Beauticians have slammed the government for being unrealistic in their proposed framework to regulate medical devices.

"There were about 5,000 beauty parlors in 2014 and it is projected that Hong Kong now has 6,000 beauty parlors. Do you have 6,000 medical professionals available to station here for supervision?" questioned Joyce Tsang Yue, head of the Hong Kong Beauty and Wellness Association. “Medical professionals are not trained to use beauty machines. They pose a threat to consumers just like untrained beauticians,” she added.

The industry also accused the government of not offering adequate consultation. They also criticized certain instruments were wrongly categorised as risky devices.

“This is discrimination against beauticians as it is confusing the cosmetic and medical markets. The move will definitely kill the development of the industry,” said Nelson Sai-Hung Yip, Chairman of the Federation of Beauty Industry.

Doctors not willing to compromise patient safety

Despite strong opposition by the beauticians, five groups of Hong Kong medical professionals are not satisfied with the government’s proposed framework and they are lobbying for even stricter regulations as they requested some devices could only be operated by doctors.

Some procedures, such as plasma devices for skin resurfacing and robotic hair restorations, have been given a green light by the government to be performed by beauticians. Dr Chiu-Ming Ho, a specialist in plastic surgery and council member of the Society of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons, thinks otherwise.

“It is a controlled skin burn, as the skin would peel off four to five days after the procedure... if there is any wound on the skin, it is no longer a beauty treatment but a medical procedure,” he said.

Consumer education also essential in ensuring their safety

Although the government and numerous healthcare professionals have highlighted the potential dangers of undergoing medical beauty services, as high as 81.3% of the respondents in the survey conducted by the Consumer Council considered these services to be ‘non-invasive’, ‘common’ and ‘can be performed by beautician’. Even more startling was the discovery that only 62.8% of clients understood the potential risks. There is no denying that consumer vigilance is crucial in combating unsafe practices.

Hong Kong’s beauty industry bears the responsibility to enhance the safety standard for its customers. This responsibility can only be fulfilled by creating a licensed medical programme and proper legislation that regulates the use of medical devices and out-of-hospital procedures. MIMS

Read more:
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Uncovering the truth behind 8 common plastic surgery myths
Series of medical blunders prompt government to enforce new regulations on private hospitals in Hong Kong

Sources:
http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/1966921/doctors-warn-botox-risks-fourth-hong-kong-woman
http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/1825356/mother-dance-teacher-who-died-after-liposuction
http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/1941533/hong-kong-health-officials-case-beauty-salon
http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/law-crime/article/2048016/hong-kong-beautician-arrested-claiming-chinese-therapy
http://www.thestandard.com.hk/section-news.php?id=179650
http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2053883/more-legislation-needed-regulate-hong-kongs
http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2059723/hong-kong-government-unveils-plan-regulate-use
http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2068858/hong-kong-doctors-will-not-need-specialist
http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2069195/hong-kong-doctors-say-beauticians-should-not
https://www.consumer.org.hk/sites/consumer/files/competition_issues/Medical_Beauty/Presentation_Eng.pdf