The triple "A" effect

March 14, 2024

Upholding Ethical Standards in Non-Surgical Aesthetics: The Role of Advertising Standards Authority and AI

In an era where the aesthetics sector in the UK burgeons with promises of youth and beauty, ensuring ethical advertising practices is paramount. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the UK stands as a guardian, upholding transparency, and integrity in advertising. Particularly within the non-surgical aesthetics sector, where concerns over misleading claims and unethical practices loom large, the ASA employs innovative tools, including artificial intelligence(AI), to combat illegal advertising. Over recent years the Joint Council for Cosmetic Practitioners (JCCP), the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) have worked closely to tackle and positively address the issue of illegal advertising in the Aesthetic sector, to safeguard consumer interests and promote responsible advertising practices.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA):

Established in 1961, the ASA is the UK's independent regulator of advertising across all media platforms, ensuring compliance with the Advertising Codes. With a commitment to protecting consumers and maintaining fair competition, the ASA investigates complaints and acts against misleading, harmful, or offensive advertisements.

The Joint Council for Cosmetic Practitioners (JCCP):

Established in 2018, as a self-regulatory body, the JCCP plays a crucial role in promoting best practices and professional standards within the non-surgical aesthetics sector. By accrediting practitioners and clinics that meet stringent criteria for training, qualifications, and ethical conduct, the JCCP aims to enhance transparency and accountability in the sector.

AI in Tackling Illegal Advertising:

In the fast-evolving landscape of digital advertising, the ASA harnesses the power of AI to identify and address non-compliant ads swiftly and efficiently. AI algorithms analyse vast amounts of online content, detecting keywords, images, and patterns indicative of illegal advertising practices. This proactive approach enables the ASA to stay ahead of emerging trends and tackle deceptive marketing tactics effectively.

The use of prescription only medicines (POMs) in the promotion of procedures and their presence in marketing to the public is of course illegal. When we think about the use of prescription only medicines in aesthetics, we of course think of the most common one which is Botox©, not only a copyright term but a prescription only medicine. There are in fact many more, Hyaluronidase (used to dissolve a filler in an emergency) Biotin, Hydrocortisone, B12, Kenalog (hay-fever Injections)and the JCCP sought last summer to secure as many new rulings as possible to bring the guidance right up to date and raise awareness amongst practitioners and the public.


The JCCP have seen a rise in adverts calling for models which include a prescription only medicines. Sadly, we have seen an increase in members of the public suffering injury and having a substandard experience when taking up a slot as a model, often left with no course of redress and told they had the procedure at a reduced rate. This should not mean a reduced standard of care.

Challenges in the Non-Surgical Aesthetics Sector:

The non-surgical aesthetics industry presents unique challenges due to the proliferation of unregulated practitioners and the potential risks associated with non-surgical aesthetic procedures. Misleading claims, unrealistic promises, and inadequate disclosures are among the concerns that jeopardize consumer safety and confidence in the sector.

What do the ASA say?

It is against the law to advertise prescription-only medicines to consumers in the UK. However, some businesses either are not fully aware of the rules or do not follow them. The ASA frequently deals with organic social media posts by businesses promoting prescription-only treatments such as Botox, weight loss injections and vitamin injections. The ASA takes a comprehensive approach to tackling this issue, working with advertisers, platforms, relevant trade associations or professional bodies and statutory regulators like the MHRA. But we also take amore direct approach on Instagram, proactively monitoring for problematic posts and working with Meta to get them removed as quickly as possible.


The ASA have worked hard to assess the issue and tried pilot schemes during 2023. One of the big problems is the sheer volume of illegal adverts and the risk that predispose the public to. One tool in the box of the ASA has been the development of AI and we are already seeing the impact that has had with the ASA removing some 25000 adverts in the past year. Whilst there is still much work to be done, we feel the landscape of advertising in the sector will be almost unrecognisable as AI becomes more efficient. Working of course with Meta and encourage practitioners always to advertise is a legal decent honest and truthful way.

In 2022 the ASA removed 25,000 illegal adverts that gives you some idea of the scale but they are not stopping there, as in the past each advert needed to be assessed by one of their investigations team the new way is the use of AI dealing with illegal adverts on mass with the Data Science Team at the cutting edge of this technology.

ASA have a 5-year strategy and the trial was a world first.

Systems take advantage of recent advances in machine learning, specifically “large language models” (LLMs), to accurately identify posts that break the law as prescription only medicines come under The Human Medicines Act 2012.

Collaborative Efforts for Ethical Advertising:

The ASA collaborates closely with organizations like the JCCP to address illegal advertising practices and uphold ethical standards in the non-surgical aesthetics sector. By sharing insights, resources, and expertise, these stakeholders work towards a common goal of safeguarding consumer interests and fostering trust in the industry.


In an age where the allure of youth and beauty permeates advertising channels, regulatory bodies like the ASA and self-regulatory organizations like the JCCP play vital roles in safeguarding consumer interests and promoting responsible advertising practices.

The JCCP feel this is a good transition period for practitioners to better understand what is required of them when advertising procedures to the public, they also have a duty as a professional to be aware of the regulations around the procedures they offer.

The ASA have always been there to assist practitioners with their marketing and to help keep them the right side of the law. They have seen an increase in the number of enquiries for assistance from practitioners which must mean the message is getting through.

What will it mean for practitioners?

For many years practitioners should have been aware of this regulation, as we have seen on mass the abuse of this safety net for the public which often leads to them being incentivised to take up a procedure, time limited or pressured into a last-minute deal.

What will it mean for the public? We hope the public will recognise an illegal advert and it will reduce the number of injuries that sadly are often linked to this type of advertising.


Through the judicious use of AI and collaborative efforts, these organizations strive to combat illegal advertising in the non-surgical aesthetics sector, ensuring that consumers are empowered to make informed decisions about their aesthetic treatments. As technology advances and consumer expectations evolve, the commitment to upholding ethical standards remains unwavering, guiding the industry towards a future where transparency, integrity, and consumer welfare prevail.

Dawn Knight

Patient Trustee JCCP

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