A promotion, seen on www.groupon.co.uk, offered "Three Mole, Wart or Skin Tag Removal Treatments for £89 at KSkin (87% Off)”. Text under the heading "Highlights" stated "• Ultra high frequency electromagnetic treatment • For up to three moles, skin tags, blood spots, angioma or milia ...". Further text under the heading "The Treatment" stated "Groupon finds out about the high frequency electromagnetic treatments performed by KSkin ... Which areas can be treated? Designed to remove warts, moles, skin tags, milia, blood spots or angiomas, the treatment can be performed on any area including the face, knees and ankles. A patch test is usually required, especially for sensitive skin. What happens at the session? First, a consultation is held to discuss the treatment and address any questions or concerns. The treatment can then be performed on up to three blemishes. The session usually lasts 15-30 minutes depending on the size of the area of the affected skin. Further treatment sessions may be necessary". Text in the "Fine Print" stated "... Booking: Required by phone. 24-hour cancellation policy. Restrictions: ... Must be 18 or older ... Customers with sensitive skin may wish to consider their suitability before purchase".
The complainant, who understood that the removed moles were not tested to see if they were cancerous, challenged whether the ad was irresponsible.
MyCityDeal Ltd t/a Groupon understood that the procedure was not regulated in any way and that the machine used to carry out the procedure did not require any formal qualifications to operate, and so the procedure could, in theory, be carried out by any individual. However, they stated that at KSkin the procedure was carried out by a medical doctor who was no longer registered with the General Medical Council (GMC).
As part of the consultation process, all clients completed a questionnaire prior to undergoing the procedure, which determined the appropriateness of the treatment. Groupon provided a copy of that questionnaire. They asserted that the doctor in question would not go ahead with the mole treatment if she thought the mole in question was cancerous, and would never carry out a treatment on a malignant mole. The doctor had also stated that most customers would have initially be seen by their General Practitioner (GP) and referred to her if their GP believed the mole was safe to remove. Groupon said they weren't aware that there was any legal compulsion for removed moles to be sent for testing if the person carrying out the treatment was a qualified medical professional.
Groupon said they would be happy to amend the ad to ensure it complied with the Code and proposed adding text that encouraged consumers to consult with their GP before undertaking the procedure.
The ASA understood that most moles were harmless, but in rare cases they could develop into melanoma; a serious and aggressive form of skin cancer. In particular, we noted that changes to an existing mole or the presence of a new mole could be indicative of melanoma. We also understood that a mole was usually only removed and tested to see if it was cancerous if, upon reviewing a patient, a medical professional had concerns that a mole was suspicious and could be cancerous.
We understood that laser mole removal was unregulated in the UK and could be legally carried out by an individual regardless of their qualifications. We also understood that, in the case of the merchant, the promoted procedure was performed by a medically trained individual, that a consultation was carried out prior to a mole being removed and any moles suspected of being cancerous would not be treated. We noted, however, that the practitioner was not registered with the GMC and was not able to practise as a medical doctor in the UK. Therefore, we considered the practitioner was not best placed to assess whether a mole could be cancerous or not, or advise clients accordingly, and that best practice would be for an individual to consult with their GP, to ensure it was safe for a mole to be removed, prior to undergoing any treatment.
We noted the practitioner's comment that most clients had already been assessed, and referred to her, by their GP. However, we considered that consumers purchasing the deal from Groupon would not necessarily have thought about undertaking the procedure before, or had their moles assessed by their GP. In addition, we noted that the ad did not include any information regarding the potential risks of undergoing the procedure or that it was advisable for any prospective clients to have their moles checked by their GP to ensure they were safe to remove, prior to undergoing the treatment. Therefore, in the absence of that information, we considered that a number of consumers, who might not be aware of the link between moles and melanoma, and the fact they should get any unusual moles checked by their GP, could undergo the procedure without being informed of the potential risks. Because of that, we concluded that the ad was irresponsible and in breach of the Code.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 1.3 1.3 Marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society. (Responsible advertising) and 12.3 12.3 Marketers offering individual treatments, especially those that are physically invasive, may be asked by the media and the ASA to provide full details together with information about those who supervise and administer them. Practitioners must have relevant and recognised qualifications. Marketers should encourage consumers to take independent medical advice before committing themselves to significant treatments, including those that are physically invasive. (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We welcomed Groupon's willingness to amend the ad and told them to ensure those amendments made consumers aware of the fact that moles could be cancerous, and that it was advisable for them to be checked by their GP prior to removal.