Hong Kong's beauty industry needs major overhaul

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 November, 2013, 12:41am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 November, 2013, 12:41am

The regulation that the beauty industry in Hong Kong has so long needed is a step closer. Guidelines that will differentiate between cosmetic treatments and medical procedures have finally emerged and could take effect in a matter of months. With approval by lawmakers will come greater clarity in the grey areas that have for too long been a threat to public health and safety. But authorities have to keep firmly in mind that this is only the first stage of many in a process that will require dedicated oversight and regular review.

More than a year has passed since a woman died and three others fell ill during radical treatment for ageing. Blurred lines between beauty, health and medical treatments were put in sharp focus after years of warnings from doctors and a growing number of accidents. The incident rightly prompted an urgent review of an industry that has for too long operated with little government oversight. At all times the priority has to be the health and well-being of citizens.

Health minister Ko Wing-man has promised a shake-up with the new guidelines under the Medical Registration Ordinance. Only doctors will be able to carry out procedures that have been identified as high-risk, among them injecting Botox, dermal fillers and chemical peels. External cosmetic treatments involving technologies like lasers, infrared light, ultrasound and radio frequencies were considered less straightforward to define by a Legislative Council committee and can still be performed by beauticians. The rules are likely to have a considerable impact on an industry that is believed to employ 100,000 people in 6,000 health and beauty centres.

Operators and staff worry that the measures will affect business. Last year's tragedy has already had a considerable impact, scaring off customers and causing centres to close. But while the concerns are appreciated, at no time can safety be compromised. Further scrutiny and measures are needed.

Beauty and ageing treatments have gained wide acceptance in our perfection-seeking society. New technologies and treatments are constantly coming onto the market to create and meet demand. Authorities have finally recognised that more than a business certificate should be necessary to offer such services. But the guidelines should only be the start of an overhaul. Lawmakers need to look into several other facets, among them licensing, advertising, promotion and the involvement of doctors in such companies.