SINCE DOCTORS IN Hong Kong cannot advertise their services, those working in cosmetic medicine must rely on word of mouth for referrals. 'There are people who want surgery done, but they don't know where to go, what services are provided or how good the doctors are. There is not enough information,' said Wilson Ho of the Matilda Plastic Surgery Clinic. It has become something of a catch-22 situation for both doctors and potential patients. However, there are now 'spa' clinics that offer facial peels, Botox injections, laser skin resurfacing, laser hair removal and other procedures that should be carried out by qualified practitioners. 'Many clinics dedicated to cosmetic dermatology have opened and offer intense pulsed light (IPL) and laser services,' said Lauren Bramley, a general practitioner specialising in cosmetic medicine. 'However, the most effective laser is a Class IV, which only doctors should operate. If there is a medical problem affecting the skin, doctors can diagnose accurately and offer the most appropriate care.' It is legal for spa clinics to advertise treatments, and this is usually how consumers first learn about newly available procedures. Doctors may get additional inquiries as an indirect result, but they are also consulted for advice or help if something goes wrong, such as a botched Botox injection or a laser burn. 'They are generating business for me that can have medical and legal complications,' said Dr Ho. As a result, potential clients should do careful research about clinics and be fully aware of possible complications. He said some clinics were giving false hope and exaggerating results. 'They create a negative impact, yet they are allowed to advertise,' he said. So far, no authority in Hong Kong oversees these spa clinics, and it is not clear exactly how many are operating. Some clients seek them out after having work done in Thailand or on the mainland. They normally go there first for price reasons, but Dr Ho said any cosmetic procedure called for follow-up treatment, which should be taken into account.