The Last Word: Difference between Genuine and Counterfeit Products

By Dr Farid Kazem / 01 Nov 2015

Dr Farid Kazem argues the need for more education on the difference between genuine and counterfeit products

The aesthetics market is booming. Market researcher, Key Note, expects the industry to reach a total value of £913m by next year, up from £725m in 2014.1 Helping to fuel this growth – despite the number of people choosing traditional plastic surgery falling by 3.6%2 – is the increase in the number of people undergoing minimally invasive aesthetic procedures. In the UK, non-surgical treatments currently make up 75% of the market value, with nine in ten procedures undertaken being non-surgical;3 while in the US, 13.9 million out of a total 15.6 million cosmetic procedures are minimally invasive.4 This development has been acknowledged by the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS), an organisation that has spoken regularly about the new aesthetic ideal of ‘tweaked, not tucked’, with a demand for more subtle treatments now outperforming the more traditional and invasive treatments.5 However, this boom in demand and growing market for non-invasive treatments is not all good news for the industry, as, subsequently, there has been a rise in the number of counterfeit aesthetics treatments.6

A counterfeit product can be described as something made in exact imitation of something valuable with the intention to deceive or defraud.7 The rise of counterfeit treatments is a problem that needs to be addressed, and the Government, regulatory bodies and the aesthetic industry should work together to educate the public on the dangers of these devices and protect them from the risks. Currently in the EU, there are limited restrictions in place to prevent the emergence of counterfeit devices. When a patient chooses to undergo plastic surgery, they can learn more about my qualifications and my practice on the European Association of Plastic Surgeons register; as we are aware, however, there is currently no similar system in place for all aesthetics procedures. As a starting point, compiling a list of registered centres where genuine approved or patented treatments are available would help patients to find reliable information, allowing them to make an informed decision and feel assured that they are not undergoing a counterfeit treatment.

The CE mark system shows that a product meets EU safety, health or environmental requirements8 – and while this is of course important, more still needs to be done to protect the industry from counterfeits. For a drug to be marketed in the EU, applications must be made through the European Medicines Agency (EMA),9 (or Food and Drug Administration in the US).10 While these processes can be expensive and time-consuming, they are in place for a reason, helping to combat the emergence of substandard pharmaceuticals.

A move in this direction for the aesthetics industry would help to prevent unsafe and inefficient counterfeit devices becoming available on the market. This is where the Government needs to take action and ensure appropriate regulations are introduced to help protect patients. However, it is also important for us, as practitioners, to help educate our patients. Communications are often sent directly to us offering treatments cheaper than the market value.11 Some products and accompanying marketing materials look almost identical to those of the genuine brands, and as healthcare professionals we need to be aware of these counterfeits as our patients will not always be. Although many companies have the best intentions, I have seen numerous examples of counterfeits of cryolipolysis, the fat freezing treatment that is already patented worldwide. A patient who visited my clinic after receiving what she thought was a genuine cryolipolysis treatment, suffered fourth-degree burns from frostbite as the counterfeit device had no safety mechanism in place. Even if treatments do not cause lasting physical damage, there is a high chance results will be ineffective, leading to disappointment and an increase in financial cost if the individual then moves forward with the genuine treatment. Distrust of practitioners is also commonplace, with doubt over the effectiveness of even genuine treatments following a bad experience with a counterfeit device. These factors damage the reputation of legitimate brands and the aesthetics industry as a whole. As mentioned, it would be advisable to have a register for those who perform cosmetic interventions. However, this would provide no guarantee that those listed do not use counterfeit devices. To solve the ongoing problem with counterfeit devices, a register of centres where approved or patented treatments are available would be a good starting point. It may seem that this problem is too great for just one group to tackle alone. Indeed, I believe that the aesthetics industry and the Government have a combined responsibility to educate the public and enforce restrictions to protect individuals at risk from these harmful devices.

Disclosure: In his clinic in the Netherlands, Dr Kazem provides CoolSculpting®, owned by ZELTIQ® who patented Cryolipolysis®.

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