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Feeling a bit lost when it comes to the latest advertising guidelines for cosmetic surgery in Australia?

The world of cosmetic surgery is all about enhancing appearances, but it seems like the rules of the advertising game had a makeover themselves. If you're a medical professional working in the cosmetic surgery industry, these new guidelines unveiled by the Medical Board of Australia (MBA) and the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) which taken effect on July 1, 2023 might have you scratching your head.

These changes aimed at ensuring that advertising for cosmetic surgery is transparent, truthful, and in line with the best interests of potential patients. To simplify things for you, we created a list that can help navigate these updates smoothly.

1. Defining Cosmetic Surgery and Its Advertising

Let's start by defining what falls under the category of cosmetic surgery. Essentially, it involves surgical procedures that alter the appearance of normal bodily features. This could be anything from breast augmentation and rhinoplasty to liposuction and facelifts.

However, it's important to note that these guidelines don't apply to gender-affirmation surgery or non-surgical cosmetic procedures.

2. Why the Need for New Guidelines?

Cosmetic surgery is unique in many aspects compared to other medical practices. It comes with its own set of risks and complexities. The main purpose of these new advertising guidelines is to ensure that the potential risks and consequences associated with cosmetic surgery are not downplayed or misrepresented in advertising materials.

The MBA is keen on avoiding any misleading information that could lead individuals, particularly vulnerable ones, to make decisions they might later regret.

3. Who Holds the Reins of Advertising Content?

When it comes to the content of advertising, the responsibility rests largely with the registered medical practitioner aka you. Even if the actual creation of content is delegated to others, you must ensure that everything aligns with the guidelines.

This includes situations where you might be part of a larger team or clinic. The overarching principle is that cosmetic surgery services should only be advertised in a manner that's lawful and appropriate.

4. The Scope of Advertising in Cosmetic Surgery

Advertising isn't just about the traditional billboards and TV commercials anymore. It covers a wide range of communication methods that aim to attract individuals to regulated health service providers. This includes everything from social media posts to printed materials.

If a piece of content is promoting a cosmetic surgery service or provider, it's considered advertising. This even extends to comments that you write on social media and other platforms.

5. The Role of Advertising in Cosmetic Surgery

Unlike other medical services that are often driven by medical necessity, cosmetic surgery is often elective and based on personal choice. This makes advertising a pivotal factor in creating demand. Social media, special offers, and various marketing strategies play a significant role in shaping people's interest in cosmetic surgery.

However, the guidelines emphasises that advertisements must accurately depict the services offered, the associated risks, and the overall nature of the procedures. Misleading ads can lead to unrealistic expectations, unnecessary procedures, and even downplay the potential risks.

6. Ethical Guidelines for Cosmetic Surgery Advertising

So, what does ethical cosmetic surgery advertising look like? It's all about providing accurate, balanced information. This means:

  • Keep it Real: Share information that's honest and accurate, so the ads don't give the wrong idea.
  • Show Realistic Results: Let people see what they can realistically expect after the surgery.
  • Tell it like it is: Be upfront about the risks and the time it takes to recover.
  • Individual Matters: Remember that everyone's different, so outcomes can vary.
  • No Insecurities, Please: Never make people feel like their natural looks aren't good enough.

7. Responsibility of Practitioners in Advertising

You hold a significant responsibility in ensuring that your advertising practices are ethical and patient-centred. You must avoid exploiting the insecurities of potential patients and prioritise the well-being of individuals over financial gains.

This is especially important when it comes to patients who might not be suitable candidates for cosmetic surgery due to psychological issues.

8. Transparency in Qualifications and Claims

First of all, advertising should be straightforward and avoid misleading claims. As a medical practitioner, you should accurately present your qualifications, registration status, and professional memberships in your ads, as well as on your social media and other platforms.

Remember, any claims you make in your ads should be supported by evidence. Also, try to avoid using terms like 'magic hands,' 'sculptor,' or 'world's best', that make things sound too good to be true, overly positive or making grand claims about your expertise.

Examples of Instagram profile

Examples of Instagram profile do’s and don’t from AHPRA

9. Rejecting the Idea of Incentives

According to the new guidelines, it's important not to give incentives, discounts, or rewards to encourage people to undergo cosmetic surgery. The focus should be on presenting factual information rather than enticing individuals through gimmicks.

To put it simply, it's not okay to do things like:

  • Giving a discount if someone decides to get cosmetic surgery before a specific date.
  • Offering perks like cheaper plane tickets, hotel stays, or spa treatments as part of a cosmetic surgery package.
  • Combining different procedures and offering them at a discounted rate (like a package deal for a facelift and fillers).
  • Handing out gifts or prizes to promote you or your practice.

10. Using Testimonials in Cosmetic Surgery Advertising

As you know, according to the Australian National Law, you're not allowed to use testimonials or those kinds of positive stories in you advertising. You know, things like patient experiences or success stories – those are a no-go.

Why, you ask? Well, it's because they can make folks expect too much from the treatment. We're aiming for realistic expectations here.

When we're talking about cosmetic surgery, a testimonial could be any good thing said about the surgery experience, the reasons for doing it, or the results. Even statements about your skills or experience could count. If they mention images showing how the surgery turned out, that counts too. After all, the main goal of cosmetic surgery is to change how someone looks.

So, if you share these testimonials in you ads, whether it's in print, online, or even in your clinic, it's considered using testimonials in advertising. Even sharing these stories or posts from patients that talk positively about the surgery or the you counts. Even a simple like or response to a patient's social media post is seen as using a testimonial in advertising.

Just remember, you aren't held responsible for what you patients write on your websites, but you should make sure not to interact with them or let testimonials show up where have the availability control things. You can reduce the chance of others posting testimonials on your page by turning off reviews, comments, or tagging on your social media.

This can be all overwhelming, but there is also good news: the rule against using testimonials in cosmetic surgery ads doesn't affect patients sharing their own thoughts or reviews online. Also, it doesn't mess with how the public interacts with review sites or online chats.

Examples of sharing testimonials

Examples of sharing testimonials that point out unreasonable expectations from AHPRA

11. Navigating Social Media Influencers & Ambassadors

When social media "influencers", "ambassadors", or similar individuals are involved, there's a concern that patients might not receive all the necessary information and could develop unrealistic expectations about the outcomes. The posts shared by these people are especially worrisome for younger audiences, given the types of users on certain social platforms.

Medical professionals or advertisers who collaborate with social media "influencers", "ambassadors", content creators, or individuals of this sort are accountable for the promotional content produced by these individuals.

12. Keeping it Real with Before-and-After Images

The use of before-and-after images in advertising is common, but there's a catch.

When featuring images in cosmetic surgery ads, it's crucial to maintain transparency and avoid misleading viewers. Here are few things you should keep in mind when using images:

Appropriate Image Use:

  • Avoid single images that might mislead people into thinking they represent surgery outcomes.
  • Refrain from using images of individuals under 18.
  • Display "before and after" images with the "before" image more prominent.
  • Ensure similarities in lighting, angles, and other factors between the two images.
  • Avoid editing or enhancements to maintain authenticity.

Responsible Imagery Use:

  • Use imagery for informative and educational purposes, avoiding entertainment elements like music and comedy.
  • Avoid images that sexualise cosmetic surgery or feature unnecessary nudity.
  • Don't capture emotional patient reactions in images.

Respecting patient privacy:

  • Obtain separate consent for image use.
  • Clearly explain where images will be utilised.
  • Notify patients that their images might be shared on social media.
  • Allow patients to review images before giving consent.
  • Inform patients they can decline image use.
  • Detail image storage and access.
  • Adhere to storage guidelines.
  • Document patient consent.
  • Provide an easy withdrawal process for consent.
  • Promptly remove images if consent is withdrawn.

By adhering to these guidelines, you can ensure ethical, transparent, and responsible use of images in cosmetic surgery advertising, and provide clear indication that individual results can vary.

Examples of before and after images from AHPRA

Examples of before and after images from AHPRA

13. Addressing Recovery and Idealisation

Advertising should be transparent about the recovery process and not downplay its challenges. Cosmetic surgery isn't a walk in the park, and ads should avoid making it seem like a simple, painless experience. Let's take look at some key points that you need to know when adressing risk, recovery and expectations in your ads:

Balancing Reality in Cosmetic Surgery Ads:

  • Transparent Risk Communication: Ads must provide accurate info about surgery risks to prevent misleading the public and setting unrealistic expectations.
  • Accessible Risk Info: You should ensure easy access to risk details in ads, without requiring exhaustive searches or direct contact.
  • Limited Space Consideration: For platforms with space constraints like social media, ads should guide viewers to risk information through links or website sections.

Recovery Realism:

  • Truthful Recovery Insights: Ads should portray a truthful recovery process, including necessary services like massages, expected lifestyle changes, and temporary work/activity restrictions.
  • Avoiding Misleading Language: Terms like 'gentle', 'simple', 'quick', or 'rapid' should be avoided, as recovery times vary among individuals.

Respecting the Seriousness:

  • Appropriate Language: Cosmetic surgery ads should avoid terms like 'artistry', 'silhouette', and 'sculpting', maintaining a professional tone.
  • Honesty about Complexity: Procedures' complexity, duration, pain, side effects, and complications should not be downplayed or misrepresented.
  • Language Etiquette: Emojis, slang, and colloquialisms are inappropriate; you should always maintain a clinical tone.

Avoiding Glamorisation:

  • Realistic Imagery and Words: Ads should refrain from using terms like 'designer vagina', 'barbie', 'transformation', 'amazing', 'perfect', to prevent unrealistic ideals.
  • Steering Clear of Competition: Encouraging competitive interactions, like voting on outcomes or guessing implant sizes, shouldn't trivialize the gravity of cosmetic surgery.

In summary, striking a balance between informative content, managing expectations, and treating cosmetic surgery seriously is key for responsible advertising. By adhering to these principles, you can ensure that the portrayal of cosmetic surgery remains grounded in reality and respects the decision-making process of individuals seeking your services.

14. Promoting Well-Being Over Insecurities

When discussing body image and its connection to mental health, it's crucial to address these matters with sensitivity and professionalism. Patients sometimes develop distorted perceptions of their bodies due to various factors, such as exposure to cosmetic surgery advertisements.

This can stem from feelings of low self-esteem, body dysmorphia, or a general dissatisfaction with their appearance. As medical practitioners, it's important that you recognise that alternative interventions may be more appropriate for addressing these concerns.

To ensure responsible and ethical communication regarding cosmetic surgery, here are some essential points form the new advertising guidelines to keep in mind:

Avoiding Unrealistic Expectations:

  • Cosmetic surgery ads should not suggest that surgery is the sole solution for individuals unhappy with their appearance.
  • Discourage the use of automated tools that predict post-surgery appearances.

Discouraging Bundled Surgeries:

  • Refrain from encouraging patients to undergo multiple surgeries simultaneously, as this might lead to unnecessary procedures.

Thoughtful Language Usage:

  • Avoid language that exploits or disapproves of natural body changes or features.
  • Refrain from using terms that suggest a 'fix' for normal variations or changes in body shape.

Promoting Realism Over Idealism:

  • Cosmetic surgery ads should not focus on an individual's negative feelings about natural body variations.
  • Do not promote unrealistic images of perfect body shapes or imply that surgery is necessary to attain an 'ideal' body type.

Empowering Positive Wellbeing:

  • Avoid phrases like such as ‘get ready for summer’, ‘bikini body’, ‘forever young’, that suggest that one's wellbeing hinges on cosmetic surgery.
  • Stay away from non-clinical terms such as ‘get ready for summer’, ‘bikini body’, ‘forever young’, that oversimplify the surgical process or suggest that surgery is the only way to achieve self-worth.

By following these steps, cosmetic surgery advertising can play a more responsible role in promoting positive body image, mental health, and overall wellbeing. In a world where self-perception can greatly impact one's quality of life, it's your responsibility to convey messages that uplift and empower individuals.

15. Setting Realistic Expectations

When it comes to promoting cosmetic surgery services, it's important to avoid painting an unrealistic picture of the results. Here's what the advertising should and shouldn't do:

  • Avoid Downplaying the Nature and Risks: Stay away from terms like 'magic,' 'art,' or 'sculpt' that downplay the seriousness and potential risks of cosmetic surgery. These terms can give people a false sense of ease and may create unrealistic expectations.
  • Steer Clear of Overpromising: Refrain from using phrases or marketing tactics that suggest guaranteed outcomes. Terms like 'get her look,' 'bod inspo,' 'bikini body,' or 'get your desired shape' are not suitable. Every individual's response to cosmetic surgery varies due to factors like genetics, diet, and exercise, so it's essential to acknowledge this variability.
  • Acknowledge Individual Differences: Make it clear that results can differ from person to person. Just because one person experienced certain outcomes doesn't mean everyone will. Genetics, lifestyle, and other factors play a role in the final results.
  • Avoid Unsupported Claims: Cosmetic surgery advertising should not make claims about psychological or social benefits that can't be backed by credible evidence. Claims like cosmetic surgery changing a person's life, boosting confidence, or improving self-esteem need to be supported by solid evidence that meets the standards for health advertising.

In essence, the goal of advertising for cosmetic surgery services should be to provide accurate information without creating unrealistic expectations or making unsupported claims about the benefits. This ensures transparency and ethical communication with potential patients.

16. Considerations for Vulnerable Audiences

Speaking in a more relaxed yet professional manner, it's important for you to realise that kids, teenagers, and certain groups of patients can be more sensitive to the pressures of how they see their bodies. This is especially true when ads suggest that cosmetic surgery can fix their body image.

To make sure you're looking out for everyone's wellbeing, it's crucial that ads for cosmetic surgery aren't aimed at people under 18. These ads shouldn't show up in magazines or other places where younger people might see them. And on social media, any ads about cosmetic surgery need to be marked as "adult content" so that young folks won't come across them.

Let's also be mindful not to use these ads to take advantage of people who might already be struggling. This means not using tricks to make these ads show up more for people who might be feeling down. And we definitely shouldn't use certain words or labels in these ads to attract folks who might be going through a tough time.

You should also be thoughtful about how often we're putting these ads out there. If we're constantly posting about cosmetic surgery, it might make people think it's normal or necessary, which can make them feel worse about their bodies. So, let's be considerate of how often we're sharing this kind of content.

In conclusion, the updated guidelines for cosmetic surgery advertising are designed to promote transparency, ethical practices, and patient well-being. By adhering to these guidelines, you can contribute to a more informed and empowered decision-making process for individuals considering cosmetic surgery.

Remember, cosmetic surgery is a significant decision, and advertising should reflect its complexities and implications accurately.

Need Help Adapting to These Changes?

If you are feeling overwhelmed by all the new changes, our team provide help and guidance. Give us a call at +61 2 9191 7388 or schedule a call with our team here.

Hi, I'm Huyen

Our work (and this site) is devoted to sharing ideas, tools and resources that will help you automate, grow and scale your practice.


Learn More

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