f you’re a practising cosmetic surgeon, there are new rules for advertising cosmetic surgery that you need to know about. These rules came into effect on 1 July, 2023.
Why have the rules for cosmetic surgery advertising been updated?
The new rules for advertising cosmetic surgery in Australia have been developed as a result of an external review of patient safety issues in the cosmetic surgery industry, which was conducted in November 2021.
The final report from the review published in September 2022 made 16 recommendations to improve patient safety in the cosmetic surgery industry. It also included four recommendations about cosmetic surgery advertising.
AHPRA and the Medical Board accepted all recommendations from this review.There are n ew advertising guidelines for practitioners who perform cosmetic surgery and non-surgical cosmetic procedures. Click To Tweet
What areas of practice are affected?
Cosmetic surgery is any procedure that involves cutting beneath the skin to revise or change the appearance of the body when there is no clinical or functional need to do so. Examples of this include but are not limited to breast implants, abdominoplasty (tummy tuck), rhinoplasty (nose job), facelifts and liposuction.
Changes in advertising rules will apply to doctors who perform cosmetic surgery (procedures that involve cutting beneath the skin).
Procedures that are medically justified (e.g. those that aim to restore, correct or improve birth defects or damage caused by injury, disease, growth, or development for either functional or psychological reasons) do not fall under this definition.
Reconstructive surgery and gender affirmation surgery are also not considered cosmetic surgery.
How does this benefit patients?
Advertising can be very persuasive, particularly if it fails to disclose all potential risks, side effects and realistic recovery times, including pain associated with procedures, and only focuses on potential benefits.
The new advertising regulations are designed to offer an extra layer of protection for patients who want to alter their physical appearance, by ensuring they can make informed decisions about cosmetic surgery. Currently, the information promoting cosmetic procedures, including social media posts from influencers, celebrities and models isn’t balanced.AHPRA advertising guidelines aim to protect consumers and allow them to make informed choices about all their healthcare needs, including their decision to have cosmetic surgery. Click To Tweet
What are AHPRA’s advertising requirements for cosmetic surgery?
Advertising is anything you do to promote your services. It can include print, electronic, and verbal communication. A full list of what is considered to be advertising can be found in AHPRA’s Advertising Guidelines. Under current AHPRA advertising guidelines, advertising must not:
- be false, misleading or deceptive
- offer discounts without terms and conditions
- use testimonials
- create unreasonable expectation of beneficial treatment, or
- encourage indiscriminate use of services.
These advertising guidelines will remain. In addition, the following rules will also be in place:
- information on risks and recovery must be clear and easy to find
- videos and images must not be used for entertainment purposes
- videos and images must not be sexualized or include gratuitous nudity
- any negative body language is not allowed
- advertising for cosmetic surgery must be labelled as adult content.
What are the key changes to cosmetic surgery advertising?
From 1 July, 2023, there are several key areas of advertising that cosmetic surgeons need to pay particular attention to when promoting their services.
Portrayal of risks, side-effects and recovery
Information about the potential risks, side effects, recovery time and expected pain levels must be clear. It should also explain any services necessary for recovery (e.g. massages or compression garments) and expected changes to the patient’s lifestyle including restrictions on activities and time off work.
Not including this information has the potential to mislead or deceive the public. It can also convey an unrealistic expectation of treatment.
Realistic expectations of treatment
It’s important that patients have a realistic expectation of what they can achieve with a cosmetic procedure. Any advertising must be clear that individual responses and outcomes vary and that the outcome of one person may not reflect the experience or outcome of someone else.
Making statements about cosmetic surgery having psychological or social benefits is not allowed. Examples of this include wording around boosting confidence, improving self-esteem or body image, or feeling happier.
Words used in advertising
As we know, the kinds of words used in advertising can be very powerful and can make us buy something that we may not necessarily have been considering. The same can be said for cosmetic procedures. Therefore, words such as the following are banned from cosmetic surgery advertising:
- mummy makeover
- unsightly bulges
- lose the bingo wings
- problem area
- hip dips
- thigh gaps
- flat buttock
- tummy tuck
- boob job
- Brazilian butt lift
- nose job
- designer vagina
- get the look
- bod inspo
- bikini body
- get your desired shape
- get ready for summer
- forever young
Please note, that the above are just examples. I recommend you consult the updated advertising guidelines for cosmetic surgeons for further information.There are now strict rules about what kinds of words and images can be used to advertise cosmetic procedures in Australia. Click To Tweet
Images can also be powerful in advertising which is why there are new standards relating to the kinds of images used in cosmetic surgery advertising. The following guidelines apply to images used in cosmetic surgery advertising.
- images of people under the age of 18 years must not be used
- surgeons must gain specific consent to use patient images in advertising
- all images must include a prominent warning that expected outcomes may not reflect those depicted in the image
- the following types of images must not be used
- naked bodies or body parts
- bodies in lingerie or swimwear
- stylised single images such as those with mood lighting, soft filters, black and white images
- images of models or celebrities
- sexualised images
- before and after images must be genuine photos of a patient who has had the procedure
- the prominent image must not be the ‘after’ image
- before and after images must be taken in similar conditions (e.g. similar lighting, camera angle, background, framing, exposure, posture, clothing)
- images must not be edited or enhanced
- the use of icons or emojis are banned
- images depicting lifestyle images are not allowed
Once again, this is not an exhaustive list and I recommend you consult the updated advertising guidelines for cosmetic surgeons for further information.
What other rules do cosmetic surgeons need to be aware of?
Patient testimonials and using social media influencers to advertise products or services will be strictly banned. This also includes posts, videos or photos on Instagram, TikTok or any other social media platform.
Anyone performing cosmetic procedures must now include their registration type in all forms of advertising and ensure that they only use the title of ‘surgeon’ if they have a specialist registration in surgery, obstetrics and gynaecology, and ophthalmology.
What do cosmetic surgeons need to do?
If you’re a cosmetic surgeon and you haven’t ensured your advertising meets these strict new rules, you need to do so immediately. These rules came into effect on 1 July, 2023, and you may be liable for any advertising breaches if you haven’t complied.
Where can you get help?
The new advertising guidelines for cosmetic surgeons are available on AHPRA’s website. These should be read in conjunction with the Guidelines for advertising a regulated health service, which are the broader advertising guidelines. You should also make sure you understand your advertising obligations when using social media, which you can find on AHPRA’s advertising hub.
You can also contact the Medical Board for further clarification or seek the advice of your insurer and/or independent legal adviser about any issues you may be unsure of.The Melbourne Health Writer provides AHPRA compliance services to registered health practitioners in Australia. Click To Tweet
My AHPRA compliance services
I have already helped one cosmetic and plastic surgeon comply with these new guidelines and now I’m ready to help you.
My AHPRA Compliance Hub has a range of FREE and paid products and services to help you meet your advertising obligations.
You can use my FREE Credible Compliant Copy Checklist to check your copy complies with AHPRA Advertising Guidelines. Please note, that this resource does not include these new changes to cosmetic surgery.
You can download my Words to be Wary of Checklist to make sure you use the right words in your advertising so you can avoid a fine.
Through my AHPRA Compliancy Check I will audit your website and look for issues of non-compliance.
Finally, if you want a website that can be found on Google, is patient-friendly, builds trust with your patients AND complies with these new guidelines, I can write your web copy. I have several packages available for you to choose from.
And of course, if there is any other way that I can help — whether it be through training, one-on-one coaching, or helping with another project, please get in touch.
Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure information contained in this post is in line with relevant legislation and the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) advertising guidelines.
The Melbourne Health Writer is not a legal professional and therefore will not be held responsible for any non-compliant advertising that may result in an audit, fine or other sanction, as a result of following the information in this post.
If you are unsure if your advertising complies with the National Law, you should seek advice from your professional association, insurer and/or independent legal adviser. We recommend you find further information about AHPRA compliance, including specific examples at https://www.ahpra.gov.au/Resources/Advertising-hub.aspx .