Ugly side of beauty and cosmetic treatments

  • Consumer complaints report treatments that went wrong
  • A wide range of issues raised, including unexpected injury, pain and scars
  • Research required to ensure operators are experienced and professional
  • WA consumers are urged to exercise caution when seeking beauty and cosmetic treatment services, as botched procedures can result in injury, pain and long-term scarring.

    From 1 January to 30 June 2021, Consumer Protection received 36 complaints and 25 enquiries about beauty and cosmetic treatments. In 2020, there were 71 complaints and 115 enquiries. Most problems related to hair treatments, wax or laser hair removal or treatments to eyebrows, eyelashes, nails and lips. Issues raised included:

    • Chemical burns
    • Infections
    • Allergic reactions
    • Bruising/swelling/scarring
    • Dark spots
    • Unhygienic conditions

    Examples of reported cases involved: second degree burns to a stomach from a fat freezing treatment; infection from a lip fill procedure; burns from a hair removal laser treatment on a tattoo; and a “tummy tuck” that went wrong.

    Commissioner for Consumer Protection Gary Newcombe said that, while most operators are experienced and offer a professional service, there are some occasions when consumers can suffer painful injuries or infections.

    “While the number of reported cases of injury are low, the impact on affected consumers can be significant with prolonged pain, long-term scarring and psychological trauma, so a great deal of research by clients is required before deciding on who should carry out the procedure,” Mr Newcombe said.

    “If something goes wrong, a refund, credit or other remedy offered by the business operator that would normally resolve consumer complaints may not satisfy the consumer in this situation, as they could also be seeking damages or compensation which can be only be achieved by taking civil court action.

    “Consumer law does cover what is called “consequential damages” which means the trader is obliged to reimburse the customer’s subsequent costs of any remedial care required to treat the injuries and symptoms caused by the original botched treatment.

    “The extent of the regulation of beauty and cosmetic services will depend on the treatment being carried out, as different procedures fall under different laws, regulations or codes of practice.

    “Consumers shouldn’t assume that the person delivering a treatment or procedure has a medical qualification as this may not be required. If they are a plastic surgeon, medical doctor or nurse, they will need to be registered by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra) and their qualifications can be checked by an online search.

    “Some treatments or procedures, however, may not have specific regulations. Generally though, beauty and cosmetic services are covered by the Australian Consumer Law which provides guarantees that the goods and services supplied will be of acceptable quality and be fit for any disclosed purpose as well as a requirement that operators carry out treatments or procedures with due care and skill.

    “Salons and clinics that fail to comply with relevant regulations, codes of practice and/or use unqualified or inadequately trained staff to carry out these procedures are putting their clients’ safety at risk.

    “Business operators should also ensure that electrical appliances being used are safe and have been purchased from reputable suppliers who comply with Australian safety standards. The equipment needs to be checked and tested regularly.

    “We urge consumers who have had a bad experience to report it to Consumer Protection, or specific regulators of that procedure, so that the circumstances can be investigated and appropriate action taken.”

    Before committing to a cosmetic procedure, Consumer Protection recommends clients undertake the following research as a minimum:

    • Seek advice from a health practitioner such as a GP about any health risks that may be involved before deciding to proceed;
    • Compare quotes and be wary of discounted prices that are far less than competitors – it may suggest counterfeit products or unqualified practitioners;
    • Ask about the qualifications, training and experience of the person who will perform the procedure or treatment. If they claim to be a nurse or doctor, check with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra) and confirm they are registered in Australia;
    • Check that the facility is clean and hygienic. Depending on the type of procedure being provided, the premises may need to be registered with the local council;
    • Check that the provider is complying with any applicable regulations or codes of practice.

    Treatments involving skin penetration such as botox, tattoos, body piercings, beading, acupuncture etc. must comply with the Code of Practice for Skin Penetration Procedures and the Health (Skin Penetration Procedures) Regulations 1998 which is administered by local government environmental health officers in association with the WA Department of Health. Waxing and shaving also fall within this category.

    Cosmetic laser treatments, including for hair and tattoo removal, are regulated by the Radiological Council and must comply with the requirements of the Radiation Safety Act 1975. Lasers may only be used if a suitable licence or exemption certificate is held by the operator using the laser or immediately supervising a laser trainee. The use of chemicals is regulated by Occupational Health and Safety laws administered by WorkSafe.

    Consumers who are not satisfied with the treatment received and can’t resolve the issue with the operator or business, can lodge a complaint on the Consumer Protection website. Enquiries can be made by email consumer@dmirs.wa.gov.au or by calling 1300 30 40 54.

    /Public Release. This material comes from the originating organization/author(s)and may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s).View in full here.