Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the Advertising Standards Authority.
Many marketers claim that lasers can improve the appearance of skin. In fact, lasers have been used for a multitude of cosmetic purposes such as the removal of birthmarks, acne scarring, blemishes, thread veins and wrinkles.
In 2018, the ASA investigated whether lasers could treat acne, rosacea and other skin conditions. Though the advertiser provided a number of clinical trials, the trials were either uncontrolled, had limited sample sizes, differing laser devices or the methodology was unclear. Furthermore, the company featured Before & After photographs which, in the absence of evidence, were considered not representative of what their customers could achieve (The Laser Treatment Clinic, 22 August 2018). See also Lasers: Acne, Stretch Marks.
CAP has seen a number of anti-ageing claims made in advertisements for laser and Intense-Pulsed Light (IPL) treatments for skin.
In the past, several manufacturers refer to laser ‘resurfacing’, which it describes as a very controlled burning procedure during which a laser vaporizes shallow layers of facial skin, removing not only superficial wrinkles and lines caused by sun damage and smoking but also acne scars. The laser procedure creates a fresh surface over which new skin can grow. CAP does not accept that lasers can rejuvenate or reproduce the effects of surgical face-lifting, but does accept that skin can be resurfaced if advertisers have the evidence to substantiate this. Marketers of laser treatments may claim that lasers “temporarily rejuvenate the skin’s appearance”.
Claims that a laser treatment can remove wrinkles, the signs of ageing, or that the treatment is safe or painless, are not generally acceptable (The London Aculight Clinic, 3 August 2005). Historically, the ASA investigated a complaint about the efficacy of lasers and concluded that, although the evidence submitted by the advertiser showed carbon dioxide laser resurfacing could improve the appearance of static facial lines, the studies showed those lines could return within a year, especially if the lines were caused by the movement of underlying muscles (West of England Laser Centre, 4 August 2004). CAP advises that marketers avoid implying that the lasers can remove fine facial lines and wrinkles permanently.
Moreover, in one ad, a marketer claimed that a laser skin device called Phillips ReAura could stimulate the “skin's natural cell renewal process...with visible results you can really see...over the 8-week course of treatment...stimulates the production of collagen to reduce fine lines around the eyes and mouth and on the cheeks. A more even skin tone is achieved and age spots and sunspot are visibly diminished”. However, the complaint was upheld because the evidence held was not sufficiently robust (John Lewis Partnership plc, 18 December 2013) For more information about what kind of evidence will be required by the ASA, marketers should see CAP guidance on Substantiation for Health, Beauty and Slimming Claims.
CAP accepts that some lasers can offer a limited improvement to, or lighten the skin under the eyes – although understand that effect is unpredictable and at worse, could make the condition worse. The effect depends on the cause of the discoloration and the type of laser used. Because they have many factors to consider, marketers should make only qualified or conditional claims, for example “lasers could lighten dark circles under the eyes caused by sun-damage” (as long as the marketer holds evidence to this effect). If the cause of the dark circles is genetic or dermatitis-related, CAP understands that lasers are unlikely to have a discernible effect. Ads should make clear that the effect will be temporary (for example “could temporarily lighten”) and marketers should be able to show that they the lasers they use are proven to be effective for the specific condition described.
Marketers are responsible for the classification of their devices, whether for medical or beauty purposes, and ensure that it holds the appropriate CE Marking. Marketers who are unsure about the regulation or classification of a laser device should contact the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) for medical/dental/some aesthetic lasers and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) for non-surgical lasers in the first instance. Marketers should also ensure that they do not promote the use of lasers by unqualified technicians. See also CAP’s guidance on Medical Devices.