A ban on Botox and fillers for under-18s will be implemented from next month, but 41,000 procedures were carried out on kids in 2020 alone
From the back, the girl in front of me in the corner shop queue looked like every other schoolgirl. The white shirt crumpled and untucked on one side at the end of a long day in the classroom; the grey skirt hiked up as far as regulations would allow. Then she turned, a pack of Skittles in her hand, and I sucked in a breath. Because it wasn’t a child’s face I was looking at or even a teenager’s, but an Instagram face, a Love Island face, complete with heavy ‘microbladed’ brows and bruised and bloated lips. A face that, by the age of 15 or 16, had already been desecrated by cosmetic surgery.
That face is no longer a rare sight, either in London or elsewhere across the country. And as an illustration of our failure to protect youngsters both from themselves and the people who have been given free rein to carry out cosmetic procedures on children for far too long, it doesn’t get more powerful – or shameful.
It might – should – appall you to know that until now, the people turning those innocent-faced adolescents into Face Warp-ed ghouls won’t have been doing anything wrong. They’re not necessarily ‘rogue’ – although there are plenty of those about – just cynical so-called ‘experts’ who, despite almost a decade’s campaigning to bring in an age limit for potentially dangerous cosmetic treatments, have been allowed to treat children without parental consent, no questions asked.
On Sunday, health minister Nadine Dorries finally announced that a ban on Botox and fillers for the under-18s will be implemented from next month, with practitioners facing prosecution if they fail to carry out age checks before procedures. Which is a big step in the right direction, but only brings us in line with the US, France, Italy and Germany, where cosmetic surgery legislation has been far more stringent for years.
The ban also comes after, and not before, 41,000 procedures such as lip fillers were carried out on kids in 2020 alone. It follows complaints about those cosmetic procedures rising tenfold over the past five years, with the campaign group Save Face receiving 2,083 complaints about botched procedures over the past year, and after some the victims of those botched procedures have been left with everything from blood clots and partial blindness to necrosis of the facial tissue. In the most extreme cases, patients have been forced to have parts of their faces removed to stop the necrosis spreading.
According to Save Face, our failure to legislate sooner means that cosmetic cowboys are now rife in the UK. “It’s like the Wild West out there,” says its director, Ashton Collins, “with unlicensed practitioners targeting young people on social media, buying their products illegally online and even doing house calls, so that they’re effectively ghosts when it comes to policing.” The new legislation is nowhere near broad enough, either, she says. “Yes, fillers have been a big area of concern,” “because of a boom in young people wanting to get those ‘Instagram lips’, but there are still plenty of other ‘tweakments’ available that are entirely unregulated.”
What Collins calls the “fox-eye” look – “which has been driven by the likes of Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid” and can be achieved by a procedure called ‘thread lifting’, whereby threads are inserted beneath the skin with a cannula and then tightened to lift the area – is currently popular with teens, she tells me, along with chemical peels and laser treatments. “All of these things are still legal for under-18s, despite the fact that they can have severe complications if done incorrectly.” And when a 17-year-old girl recently contacted the group after a facial needling procedure called ‘mesotherapy’ had left her not with the “thinner face” she’d asked for (tragic in itself), but a grotesquely swollen right eye and cheek, they were forced to tell her she had no legal recourse. “So this fragile young girl who was already suffering from body confidence issues was left distraught.”
It defies belief that at a time when so much emphasis has been given to boosting youngsters’ self-esteem and guarding teens against anxiety and bullying, we have allowed them to be sacrificed at the altar of scientific ‘progress’ in this way. That by allowing them unlimited and unchecked access to such treatments we have not just validated but promoted the insecurities every single one of us had in our teenage years. Only back when I was a child, the message was clear: you have the face and body you were born with. Get used to it.
And by the way, you are far more than the sum of those parts.