Today we’ve published two key rulings involving advertisers in the health and beauty sector that set a clear precedent on what is permissible when making references to Botox in ads. Because Botox is a prescription-only-medicine (POM) it is prohibited by law from being advertised to the public, either directly, as a product for sale or indirectly, as part of a service offering to treat consumers with a POM.

Our rulings against HB Health of Knightsbridge and Dermaskin Clinics followed a complaint from the Independent Healthcare Advisory Service, as well as an ASA challenge, that references to Botox on the companies’ websites were against the rules. As a result, we’ve banned the ad claims and told the advertisers to take special care when referencing Botox in the future.

So what was the problem with the advertising claims? Although both advertisers agreed to remove references to Botox from their home pages the removal of the word itself did not resolve the issue. This is because visitors who clicked on hyperlinks for more information were then connected directly to extra content about Botox.

Advertisers are allowed to make references to Botox online, but only if they’re presented in both a factual and balanced way. References have to reflect the content of the ‘Summary of Product Characteristics’ (SPC) that are authorised for Botox as part of the product’s medicines licence.

Beyond this, our rulings also highlight that the only cosmetic use for which Botox is licensed is the ‘glabellar’ lines, which are the vertical lines on the forehead between the eyes. This means that although Botox is commonly used to treat other lines and wrinkles, it is not licensed for that sort of use. Any claims, therefore, that go beyond factual information representative of the licence are likely to automatically breach the Advertising Code.

This action forms part of our work to ensure advertising online, including claims on companies’ own websites, is in line with the rules that apply across media; we’ve had responsibility for this work since 2011. Bringing the sector into compliance will not happen overnight, so we’re also raising awareness amongst consumers to be careful if responding to any advertisement for Botox, particularly online.

Our rulings also sit against a backdrop of wider societal concern about ads for cosmetic procedures and whether they are responsible. Setting a clear precedent for ads for Botox treatments signals our commitment to protecting consumers from claims that are not only prohibited by law but that could be harmful to health.

Clearly, our decision has ramifications for an entire sector. We’ll be communicating our findings to the cosmetics interventions sector, encouraging anyone making references to Botox on their websites to seek help and advice through the Committee of Advertising Practice on how to ensure their claims are in line with the advertising rules. Our Compliance team will also be monitoring the sector and taking follow-up action where appropriate.

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