In September 2020, the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) began a consultation on the banning of cosmetic surgery advertisements aimed at young people under the age of 18. 
 
Having surgery is an incredibly important decision that can give you life changing results. That is why surgeons have a duty to be responsible and ethical in their application. At Suffolk Breast Practice, our patients’ welfare is at the heart of our service. 
 
We understand the cosmetic and psychological benefits of surgery for patients, as well as the risks. It is vitally important that surgeons recognise their responsibility, particularly with regards to people below the age of 18 who may seek cosmetic surgery as a solution to their body anxieties. 
 
Young People and Cosmetic Surgery Ads 
Advertisements for breast augmentation and rhinoplasty would be among those to be banned should the proposals come into effect. This is understandable, as procedures such as breast augmentation are significant operations that can have long-lasting effects. Indeed, the advertising of cosmetic procedures carries a serious responsibility at all times and more so when it comes to a younger audience. 
 
Young people are particularly vulnerable to feelings of inadequacy in terms of body image. It must be recognised that young people may seek cosmetic surgery in a desperate attempt to cure such feelings, or rectify issues relating to their self-image. Advertisements for cosmetic surgery only encourage such attempts. However, matters of self-confidence pertaining to one’s body are often a psychological issue that needs to addressed, not a surgical necessity. 
 
Body dysmorphia, for example, which is now highlighted through the use of social media, usually starts in people around the age of 13. Advertisements targeted at such vulnerable people raise ethical concerns by irresponsibly exposing them to surgery. At our breast practice in Essex and Suffolk, we assess whether cosmetic surgery is a viable option for our patients. 
 
Practising Responsible Surgery 
As surgeons, it is our responsibility to safeguard the wellbeing of young people from the risks associated with surgery and to ensure that surgery is a suitable course of action in a particular case, that it would not cause further harm. We would therefore be reluctant to operate on a person under the age of 20. 
 
Aside from the psychological vulnerabilities of young people, body changes during puberty are also an important factor for those under the age of 18. We would therefore advocate that no person under the age of 18 should receive surgery for cosmetic purposes. The risks associated with such surgery and the age and vulnerability of the patient, could cause more harm than good. 
 
Advertisements for cosmetic surgery targeted at young people is a concern we share. At Essex Breast Practice and Suffolk Breast Practice, we pride ourselves on providing our patients with a responsible and ethical service. 
 
If you would like to participate in the CAP consultation, email cosmeticinterventions@cap.org.uk by 5pm on 22nd October 2020. 
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