Why do so many people want cosmetic procedures?

Fergus Walsh
Medical correspondent

Media caption,
Karen Rowing having a dermal filler treatment

It would seem that more and more of us are opting for a bit of help to slow the appearance of ageing.

The idea of growing old gracefully - wrinkles and all - seems anathema to a growing number of Britons.

The cosmetic procedures industry is booming. It has undergone an estimated five-fold increase in turnover in a decade. At any period that would be astounding growth - in the teeth of a recession it is all the more astonishing.

In particular, there has been a surge in non-surgical treatments, such as dermal fillers and Botox.

An independent review has revealed a shocking lack of regulation over these 'injectables', and it called for a range of measures to protect patients.

So who is having a "bit of work" done?

"Our average patient is aged 35-55," said Pat Dunnion, chief operating officer with Transform.

"People want to look good - you pay to go to the gym, so why not pay to improve your looks? The treatments are more accessible and affordable than ever."

Transform is the UK's biggest cosmetic surgery provider, with 24 clinics and two hospitals. It has a turnover of nearly £40m and has seen its non-surgical procedures double in just four years.

'Everybody wants to look good'

Karen Rowing, 45, from Essex, is one of their patients: "Everybody where I live wants to look good - even people aged 21, 22 are having treatment.

"I tell them to wait until they are my age but it's a battle of wills - everybody wants to compete against one another."

Karen agreed to let us film her dermal filler treatment, which lasted about 25 minutes and cost £600. Years of filming surgery has left me fairly unsqueamish, but I imagine some people might find wince at having the fillers injected deep under the facial skin.

Karen wanted to lessen the appearance of lines on her face, and took it all in her stride: "There was some discomfort, but nothing to scream about. And I'm very pleased with the result - very natural looking."

These lunch-hour lifts are proving increasingly popular. Karen Rowing said she had had Botox in her lunch-break and after the dermal filler treatment would be going home to pick up her children from school.

The availability of non-surgical treatments has helped to normalise cosmetic procedures, fuelled by the celebrity culture which pervades much of the media.

Done well, cosmetic procedures are intended to give a younger, more vital look. Done badly they can leave people looking puffed up, or with major infections.

The review team was concerned about the "trivialisation" of cosmetic surgery - and took a dim view of reality programmes like The Only Way is Essex (TOWIE).

It also criticised the promotional deals which some cosmetic providers offer to lure clients.

Loyalty scheme

Transform says it stopped doing promotions on surgery several years ago, but did have a loyalty points scheme and other discounts for some injectables.

"That's what patients are asking us to do and that's the norm in the industry - but as a result of the Keogh review we will look again at our marketing and consider what we do in future.

"We are not trying to entice people to have any kind of cosmetic treatment, and our surgeons turn away nearly 40% of patients because they are unsuitable or because they have unrealistic expectations," said Pat Dunion.

I have been a medical guinea pig on several occasions in order to illustrate stories, but I would draw the line at having dermal fillers or any kind of cosmetic treatment - wrinkles and all is the future for me.