Transparency in Aesthetic Treatment

By Kat Cooke / 01 Feb 2017

Aesthetics investigates why many patients still feel they are unable to speak openly about their aesthetic procedures

For patients, admitting to having an aesthetic treatment is still a taboo, and this was highlighted by a recent online survey by pharmaceutical company Allergan. The consumer survey of 1,507 women in the UK (aged 25-55) had some interesting results. Although the majority (88%) of women believed that they were free to express their beauty any way they choose, and 25% of women said they’ve had or would consider having facial injectables, well over a third of the latter group (38%) said they have or would keep their facial injectable treatment a secret.1

In an era where more people are seeking aesthetic treatment and there is more consumer press coverage than ever before, why are many patients remaining tight-lipped about their treatments? And is this likely to change in the future?

Keeping quiet

On 12 January 2017, the CEW (Cosmetic Executive Women) – a not-for-profit professional organisation that aims to address important topics in the beauty industry – in partnership with Allergan, held a panel debate titled ‘Breaking the taboo: can a feminist love fillers?’. The topic instigated various discussions from the panel on why patients seek treatment, what they want from treatment, and how they don’t feel they can discuss it. This was highlighted in the online survey, which indicated that 68% of women felt judged or treated differently just because of the way they look,1 a possible reason as to why patients might not want to discuss treatments.

“I see women who desperately don’t want anyone to know,” says aesthetic practitioner Dr Tatiana Lapa. “It almost becomes a game, to plan their week in a way so as if they get a small bruise from treatment no one will see them until it disappears. They want to make sure no one finds out.”

Aesthetic nurse prescriber Alison Telfer, a panellist at the CEW debate, said, “I have several couples that come to me that don’t know that either have had treatment, I have several sisters that come that don’t know each other comes; one of these particular sisters is envious of how beautiful the other sister is and how she hasn’t developed any lines and wrinkles – that’s a shame.” She adds, “There is a fear that someone will say to them, ‘don’t be so stupid, you don’t have to do that’.”

But why might aesthetic treatment be something to feel embarrassed about? Dr Lapa explains, “I think the fact that there are high-profile figures and celebrities having injectable treatments and hiding it does perpetuate the cycle of it ‘not being okay’ and being ‘taboo’. If these people were more open about it, it could help.”

Does it matter?

Although many patients may feel uncomfortable discussing a procedure, more transparency could be of benefit to the industry and general public alike. Telfer says, “A patient will have fillers and two weeks later her friends will say, ‘you look great – is it that the new cream you’re using? Then that patient will just say, ‘Yes!’. This could lead women to think they can gain unachievable results just from creams.”

Dr Lapa adds, “If patients were more open about the treatments they have had then people would realise the amount of possibilities there are; how advanced treatments have become. We can enhance a patient’s face without a stitch or cut – people aren’t aware of the potential.”

By not talking openly about it, Telfer is also concerned that this could lead some patients to go to the wrong practitioner, “Because patients don’t make recommendations, people may seek treatment from practitioners that aren’t experienced or fully trained.”

Could this change?

In recent years there have been many reports of a rise in younger patients seeking aesthetic treatment. Although official UK statistics are hard to come by, research by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) suggests more than 100,000 combined botulinum toxin treatments were carried out on patients aged between 20 and 29 in the US in 2015, and this age group received more than 50,000 hyaluronic acid filler injections in the same year, which was up 8% on the previous year.2 Dr Lapa says, “My younger patients are much more open to discussing what they have had done and even recommend to their friends. I’d say a lot of that is probably to do with social media; for example, I will have patients come to me saying they follow a certain person on social media and want to know what they have had done and say they want something similar.”

Telfer agrees, “I see patients in their 20s who are very confident and come into clinic saying, ‘this is what I want’ – they almost see injectables as an extension of their beauty regime. Whereas women in their 40s are not so confident; ageing for them is like going through a loss, it is like a bereavement.”

Dr Lapa says, “Some of our younger patients seem to treat getting their procedures in the same was as their three-monthly hair appointment; they book in advance, as they know they will definitely be coming. I even have patients saying that their friend really ‘needs to have Botox’ done and that they’re going to ‘drag them in because they desperately need it’. To them, it is almost inexcusable to have a wrinkle or not to have fuller lips.”

Taking note of how patients find the clinic can be one way to assess how open patients are about treatment. Dr Lapa says, “My patients in their 40s, 50s or older tend to find me organically through internet searches, whereas the younger cohort find me through friend referrals. So just looking at this information makes me think the younger generation are happier to discuss and recommend treatments to friends.”

For now, many patients remain elusive about their aesthetic treatments, but if the younger demographic carries on being more forthcoming, could this lead to more transparency in older patients in the future? 

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