The CAP Code makes it clear that prescription-only medicines or prescription-only medical treatments may not be advertised to the public (Rule 12.12). The principles laid out below apply to all POMs; the most common in terms of ASA rulings being Botox. Botox is a registered trade mark for a specific botulinum toxin type A product, but other brands available include Vistabel, Dysport, Bocouture, and Azzalure. For more information, have a read of our Help Note on Cosmetics interventions marketing (non-broadcast and broadcast).

The basic rule of thumb is that any direct references to products including Botox and Viagra shouldn’t appear in traditional non-broadcast media such as leaflets, press ads, brochures, posters and even on sponsored ads and other third party ad space online.

Some limited exceptions to this apply to marketer’s own websites, for instance clinics or online pharmacies. You may offer a consultation for the treatment of lines and wrinkles, if you’re offering Botox for example, by simply including the claim “a consultation for the treatment of lines and wrinkles”. Similarly, a consultation could also be given for the treatment of weight related conditions (The Bodyline Clinic Ltd,) or even sexual problems.

The offering of a “consultation” in the first instance is paramount because the name of the POM shouldn’t be referenced in the initial ad. Therefore, there should be no reference to a POM on a sponsored ad link, a Home page of a website, on logos, in testimonials, hover text, and any small print at the bottom of a Home page should not refer to a POM or directly link consumers to a page where it is referred to. And, price lists included on a website shouldn’t include product claims or encourage viewers to choose a POM based on the price. Ultimately, the casually browsing consumer shouldn’t be able to come across information relating to POMs with ease. Otherwise you’re likely to breach rule 12.12. Make sure you promote the “consultation” not the product.

The consultation offered should be reasonably strict and it should be clear that the product won’t be sold or administered if, after a consultation, a consumer isn’t deemed suitable.

The POM most commonly referred to in ASA Rulings is Botox. Botulinum toxin is the trade name for a pharmaceutical preparation, produced by bacteria called Clostridium Botulinum, which, after injected into muscles, results in a temporary muscle paralysis. It’s also used to treat medical conditions ranging from Hyperhidrosis, neuromuscular disorders and migraines as well as cosmetic indications.

What can you actually say about Botox and other POMs on a website? You can include information about the product, but it has to be balanced and factual. In order to prevent the ASA from upholding a complaint about your ad, because it goes too far and amounts to “advertising” a POM, you should include references or information which are as compatible as possible with the wording found on the patient information leaflets (PIL’s), information found in the Summary of Product Characteristics (SPC’s) or other non-promotional reference information about the product (Skinboost). This means that before and after photos are highly unlikely to be acceptable, even if they’re genuine and you hold signed and dated proof to this effect. So too will describing the benefits of Botox offered in a so called “Botox party” (Beauty a la Maison) or claiming that a product can be used to treat areas other than those for which the product is licensed (Dermaskin Clinics).

While only suitably qualified health professionals should administer Botox, using health professionals to endorse the product breaches rule 12.8 and won’t be acceptable (Anesis Spa).

On a final note, in an attempt to target the needle-phobic, marketers should steer well clear from making comparative claims that a non-invasive product such as a cream can have a similar effect to Botox. Oddly enough, there isn’t any evidence which shows that these products stack up to their injectable counterpart (Rejuvenex Direct UK Ltd).

Further information about the advertising and promotion of POMs can be found in the Blue Guide, also available on the MHRA website.

If you require bespoke advice on your promotions, contact the CAP Copy Advice team on 0207 492 2100 or submit your enquiry via our website.

More on

  • Keep up to date

    Sign up to our rulings, newsletters and emargoed access for Press. Subscribe now.