Health and wellness

Beauty industry must face up to regulation

The medical beauty sector says regulation will kill development of the industry and allow the big chains to monopolise the market. But after an experimental blood infusion therapy killed a woman and injured three others it is clear which path the government should take

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 December, 2017, 1:09am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 December, 2017, 1:09am

The government is at a fork in the road in its procrastination over protection of the life and limb of vulnerable clients of the booming medical beauty industry. A doctor and a technician stand convicted of manslaughter over an experimental blood infusion therapy that killed a woman and injured three others. Another doctor may face a retrial after a jury could not reach a verdict on her role. The trial followed two other deaths in which it is unclear whether the victims understood the risks of medical beauty treatment as opposed to conventional services. The urgency of legislation to properly regulate the beauty industry and training of its practitioners seems clear.

But the sector remains opposed to it. Nelson Yip Sai-hung, of the Federation of Beauty Industry, says such regulation would kill the development of the cosmetics industry and is “discrimination against beauticians”. He is supported by Amy Hui Wai-fung, of the Beauty and Fitness Professionals General Union, who says beauty chains could hire doctors and monopolise the market, putting small and medium-sized centres out of business, limiting choice and raising charges.

Are aggressive sales tactics and shady procedures rampant in Hong Kong’s beauty industry?

Let’s be clear about what is at stake. On the one hand are the lives and well-being of people prepared to pay large sums for the promise or prospect of enhancement of appearance and slowing of ageing for personal, work or social reasons. On the other hand is the uncontrolled growth and activity of a sector that thrives on their trust. According to two-year-old data from research conducted for a health care fund, the number of “medical aesthetic” consumers in Hong Kong was then 786,000 and the industry was worth HK$4.2 billion. Three-year-old figures put employment at about 40,000.

Health sector lawmaker Professor Joseph Lee Kok-long says there is little motivation for the government to strengthen regulation while it is opposed by the beauty sector because it generates huge and growing profits, boosting the city’s economy. Nonetheless, it is clear which fork in the road the government should take. It has a duty to protect consumers of potentially dangerous products and services. It started down that road in 2012 by forming a steering committee which proposed that certain procedures could be performed only by doctors or under their supervision, and that certain medical devices could be operated only with a doctor present. These basic proposals have still not been scheduled for debate by lawmakers because the Food and Health Bureau says it is still considering aspects of the bill.

In terms of the public interest and well-being, what is there left to consider? The industry and its workforce can only benefit in the long run from compliance with the minimal consumer safeguards of verifiable professional standards and training.