Beauty clinics accused of using their customers as guinea pigs

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Customers of high-street beauty clinics are being used as guinea pigs for unproven cosmetic techniques peddled by cowboy practitioners, doctors have claimed.

Injectable fillers to remove wrinkles, fat-busting treatments for the overweight and microwaves to tauten slack skin are being introduced without proper controls or adequate testing, said the British Association for Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS).

Many firms now offer products and techniques which they claim can improve appearance, reduce weight and tone skin without the need for surgery. Non-surgical treatments are cheaper, simpler to administer and many can be carried out by anyone with a modicum of training, such as hairdressers.

At the start of their annual conference in London yesterday, surgeons condemned the high-pressure sales tactics adopted by some firms and warned that patients were being put at risk. Douglas McGeorge, president of BAAPS, said: "Lack of regulation is allowing treatments on the market which are not in patients' best interests. The concern is that people are being used as guinea pigs."

Botox, the anti-wrinkle treatment costing £300 to £400 a time, was sold through mail-order catalogues and a home-visiting service which was inappropriate, the surgeons said. One firm advertised "Botox at your place" which involved a "motorcycle courier coming round with a box of arrows and injecting you on the spot".

Isolagen, marketed as a way to "grow your own facelift" was introduced in Britain in 2002, despite having been withdrawn from the US market in 1999. It was withdrawn from the UK last year but not before a group of at least 50 women claiming to have been injured by the treatment had launched a class action for compensation. The technique involved taking a biopsy, a small sample of skin from behind the ear, growing the cells in the laboratory and re-injecting them to smooth out wrinkles. There was no evidence the procedure worked and some women claimed to have suffered lasting side effects, the surgeons said.

Adam Searle, past-president of BAAPS, said: "These techniques are being hijacked from the lab well in advance of their efficacy being clarified. The women involved in the class action mostly have inflammatory joint pain. That is anecdotal evidence but it illustrates how closely we skirt significant dangers."

Thermage, a technique using microwaves to shrink the tissues in the face, tightening the skin and providing a simple facelift, was being widely championed as a "sexy and successful" treatment. It cost £3,000 to £4,000 but evidence from the US showed that 70 per cent of patients who had tried it said it had made no difference. Normal Lewis, a tutor in cosmetic surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons, said: "That is just not good enough. You wouldn't get away with results like that in any other service."

The Department of Health said the safety and quality of cosmetic treatments were top priorities but self-regulation was the best way to manage them.

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