Banning Botox? Ireland's rising obsession with fillers and the need to protect young people
"There will always be trends amongst young people."
Earlier this week, Minister for Health Simon Harris announced that he was considering a ban on Botox and fillers for people under the age of 18.
He said that the government should be tackling the issue "as a matter of priority" and that even though regulations do exist in Ireland, further restrictions should be in place.
"There are a number of reasons for this including a desire by young men and women to be perfect driven by social media," he said.
“But there are also companies and professionals who are exploiting that for their own gain."
Therapie Clinic CEO Phillip McGlade welcomes Minister Harris's proposed ban.
He says that his company has seen a "massive increase" in the number of people seeking cosmetic treatments over the past few years, but that "a lot of the good clinics wouldn't feel the effects" of a ban.
"Rogue traders and those offering underage people procedures maybe," he says, "but most established clinics wouldn’t be treating under 18s anyway."
"A lot of people are turning them away already, but a lot aren’t. It would be a good thing if they did bring (the ban) in, so it would prevent rogue clinics from doing that."
McGlade says that Therapie turns away approximately 20 percent of clients already, either because they have a medical contraindication that would prevent them from getting the procedure - or because the medical professionals don't believe that they need it.
"We need to manage expectations," he says. "Some people have unrealistic ones. They want to look 20 years younger and we have to be honest with them about what Botox or fillers are going to do."
"If they're underage, we turn them away regardless, but we also turn away other clients if we feel they don't need it."
Our recent Her Instagram poll showed that while just one in 10 readers had ever gotten Botox or fillers, 37 percent had considered getting them in the past.
The vast majority said that they would opt for the treatment for personal reasons, rather than any sort of external pressure.
Despite this, there exists multiple studies that point to social media and the prevalence of cosmetic treatments online as a significant factor in the rising numbers of young people seeking them out.
According to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, social media has acted as a marketing tool for surgeons who are now able to target the exact patients they want to reach.
Where cosmetics professionals once had patients bring photos ripped from magazines to their offices, they now have people presenting pictures from Instagram with the request to "make me look like this" - filters and all.
Dr Doireann O'Leary says that young people in Ireland need to be better educated about cosmetic treatments and social media influence in order to be able to make informed choices about their appearance.
"It’s a trend," she says. "There will always be trends amongst young people."
"Part of the solution is to educate young people on body positivity, the importance of individuality and not going along with the crowd. Then hopefully they will make good decisions."
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Dr O'Leary, however, doesn't believe that an all-out ban on under 18-year-olds receiving Botox and fillers will fix the issue.
Rather, she believes that all age groups need to be protected from unqualified practitioners who are not adequately medically trained.
The solution, she says, is to class fillers as a medical procedure "... and make sure only highly qualified, ethical and skilled people are administering the treatments."
"Patients of all ages need to be protected," she says.
"I think it’s positive that the Minister for Health is acknowledging the public health concern regarding medical aesthetic treatments. However, we need protection of men and women of all ages, not just under 18s.
"The industry is not adequately regulated."
Consultant dermatologist Dr Callaghan Condon mentioned regulation earlier this week too, saying that he knows of colleagues who have seen patients missing part of their upper lips from necrosis, a form of cell injury that causes most or all of the cells to die.
"It is very easy to put the product into a vessel and if you block the vessel, you can cause necrosis of the skin,” he told RTE.
"Literally, anybody could open up and start doing fillers tomorrow (...) There is no demand or regulation for training as it currently stands."
Earlier this week, consultant plastic surgeon at the Blackrock Clinic, Dr Siún Murphy, said that she doesn't just agree with Minister Harris's proposed ban for under 18s, but that she thinks it should be extended to under 25s too.
She argues that before this age, people's faces are still growing and that procedures like Botox and fillers shouldn't be administered except in exceptional cases.
The government has yet to provide further information on what forms of procedures would and wouldn't be covered by the proposed ban - or how it would be enforced.
Botox can be administered by medical professionals to treat excessive underarm sweating, migraines, and muscle spasticity, so it's very unlikely that under 18-year-olds suffering from such conditions would no longer be able to receive treatment.
If the minister's words, and the reaction of the public, is anything to go by, the proposed ban would focus on cosmetic procedures, and the rising numbers of young people who are often targeted by companies willing to treat them regardless of whether they need it or not.
It's clear that further regulation is needed when it comes to fillers, but so is education around the cosmetics industry and the reality of what such procedures will actually achieve.