News Special: Dropping the Filter

By Holly Carver / 01 Mar 2021

Aesthetics explores recent guidelines warning against the use of social media filters in advertising

Filters used on social media are overlays which can be placed over photos during or post-production, and can achieve various effects, such as exaggerated features or simply altering the colour of the image.1

Specific beauty filters are often used on apps such as Instagram and Snapchat to enhance a person’s physical appearance. Whether it be to smooth the skin, enlarge the lips or slim the face, these filters are regularly used by individuals, as well as companies, to help market their products and services.

Last month, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned two social media posts that used filters to promote tanning products. According to the ASA, the filters exaggerated the effect of the tanning products and the ads were therefore deemed to be misleading.1

Following this, the ASA released guidance stating that influencers and companies promoting products that are directly relevant to what is being advertised should avoid applying filters to photos or videos which are likely to exaggerate the effect of the product/service. In terms of before and after imagery, the ASA reminded marketers that these images are treated as objective claims, just the same as written claims, meaning any ‘after’ image should be representative of what consumers can genuinely obtain from the product. Ads which break these rules will be taken down and prohibited from appearing again.2With social media being such a big part of marketing in the aesthetics specialty, we spoke to aesthetic nurse Julie Scott and aesthetic practitioner Dr Amiee Vyas, to find out how filters can impact aesthetic patients and their expectations.

The issues filters cause

Dr Vyas says that the main issue with influencers and companies using filters in their marketing is that patients will present for treatment with unrealistic expectations. She comments, “It’s extremely common for filtered photos to be used as a reference when patients are outlining their aesthetic goals. On average, I’d say I have at least one patient every two days who shows me a filtered image and asks why the person in this image looks so amazing. They want to know how they can look the same. It’s sad because these edited posts are something that people are exposed to every time they open their phones. It’s these unattainable standards of beauty which cause damage to our patients’ self-image and self-esteem.”

While Instagram and Snapchat filters are typically seen as being something used by the ‘Gen Z’ generation, Scott thinks that older patients are affected by them the most. She notes, “While younger patients are exposed to these images more, I think they’re also more aware that everything is filtered. For example, a lot of younger people have their own editing apps. However, older individuals aren’t as used to it and are less likely to pick up when something has been altered. I think it gives older women the idea that they shouldn’t show signs of ageing, and they then strive to look 30 forever!”

How to consult patients wanting the filtered look

Scott notes that when patients present to her wanting to mirror social media images posted by Instagram influencers or companies, she ensures to discourage them from treatment. She advises, “In our industry, practitioners need to be careful not to just follow what the patient tells them. It’s about doing what’s right for the patient, and if they have a distorted view of themselves due to social media, we need to try and rectify that rather than just doing whatever procedures they want.” Scott recommends practitioners are honest and tell patients when you think a procedure is unnecessary. She says, “I tell my patients when they might be going too far, and remind them they’re beautiful as they are. By pointing out to them that Instagram isn’t reality and by saying no, we also build patient trust.”

Scott adds, “Filters can also potentially contribute to someone developing body dysmorphic disorder, so practitioners need to look

“We need to show our following that not everybody is born looking like this ‘filter ideal’, and that if you want those results, it takes time and a lot of work”

Julie Scott, nurse prescriber 

 out for this and refer them to relevant help if necessary.”

Dr Vyas also adopts a holistic approach when consulting patients. She comments, “One thing I always ask my patients during the initial consultation is how confident they feel in their skin. After doing this for a while, I noticed that the ones who spend more time on social media are the ones who always rate their confidence lower because they are comparing themselves to unrealistic images.”

To help rectify this, Dr Vyas often provides her patients with mindset work alongside a treatment plan. She says, “I’ll also recommend the patient takes some time for themselves each day, doing things such as meditation, exercise, a bath, dancing to music – anything that can help them clear their minds away from their phones. When it comes to our review, I always find that the patients who have followed this advice are in a better place.”

Responsible marketing to patients

Dr Vyas says that working with influencers poses challenges when it comes to responsible marketing as they are often so attuned to using filters. She explains, “I won’t be affiliated with anyone who promotes my work using edited images. Once, I had an influencer ask me if she could edit her before and after image before I put it onto my Instagram page, and this made me consider my ethical standards and values as a doctor. I decided not to post her results at all, because I never want to put anything out to my followers that isn’t real. I make sure that the people I do work with only post unedited and natural content, to reflect the authenticity of my practice, and this is agreed with the influencer beforehand. Of course, if it’s a silly filter adding snowflakes to a video or something it’s fine, but anything that changes the appearance of the skin is a huge no-no for me.”

Scott adds that she believes the industry needs to focus on educating patients that the filters used online are unrealistic, and has been doing Instagram Lives with her patients to discuss their personal journeys and aesthetic concerns. She comments, “We need to show our following that not everybody is born looking like this ‘filter ideal’, and that if you want those results, it takes time and a lot of work. It also may not be achievable for everyone! Showing real people with unfiltered faces gives viewers something to relate to, and helps them realise that they’re not the only person in the world who has insecurities. I aim to show people that not everyone has naturally perfect skin – and that’s okay!”

Dr Vyas advises other practitioners to ensure that their marketing is always authentic, so as not to contribute to a problem which can negatively impact their patients. She notes, “With the ASA now addressing the use of filters, I hope that people will become more aware of what’s reality and what isn’t. This will lead to patients seeking practitioners who show realistic results and are honest with their audiences. Dropping filters is something that protects our patients’ mental health, and it’s their wellbeing that we should always put first.”

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