If a beauty advertisement sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. After the DR Beauty incident, in which one woman died after blood transfusion therapy at the beauty salon, the issue of tighter regulation over the industry has become even more pressing.
Dermatologist Nicola Chan Pui-yiu believes that "the government needs to regulate the beauty business - which is long overdue - so as to protect the public's interest." There are many different types of treatments offered by salons and doctors, she added. "However, there is no regulation as to who can carry out what kind of treatments."
Chan is a fellow of the Hong Kong College of Physicians and the Hong Kong Academy of Medicine. She graduated with a medical degree from Newnham College, Cambridge University in 1998. She now runs her clinic in Sheung Wan.
In October, a healthy 46-year-old woman died and three others were hospitalized after they paid HK$50,000 for "anti-cancer" blood transfusion therapy at DR Beauty, a beauty center established in 1995. The treatment, which the four women underwent, involved collecting and processing blood taken from their body, and subsequent transfusion of the processed blood back into the patient.
For those planning such treatments, Chan said the starting point is to determine whether the procedure is cosmetic or medical.
One way to examine the issue is to look at all the risks involved. Treatments considered high-risk are those involving body piercing, such as acupuncture and injections. In this case, having your ears pierced or getting a tattoo can be exceptions.
Anything involving the use of light, laser or energy-based equipment, such as ultrasound, is also considered to be high-risk, since the body is penetrated and the skin is injured, Chan said.
Locally, doctors are regulated by the Medical Council of Hong Kong, which has rules regarding what they can do and say.
But there is no regulatory body for beauticians or practitioners in beauty salons.
The situation gets complicated when some salons hire doctors who work behind the scenes.
Thus they can carry out all kinds of treatment, sometimes non-mainstream, and undocumented, Chan pointed out.
It will take a long time for the government to regulate the beauty industry, Chan said, adding that those considering going in for any beauty treatment should critically evaluate the procedures and qualifications of personnel at these salons.
"People should ask who is going to do the treatment and ask about their qualifications."
There are some who don't mind using beauty salons that do not have a doctor on the premises, since fees are lower and they think the treatment is simple, or they have friends who have done it and are fine, Chan said.
Before proceeding with the treatment customers should be asking these questions: Do I fully know the fees involved? Do I understand the recovery time? Do I understand the risks? What device will be used? And - most importantly - is the treatment suggested by the doctor or beautician really necessary for me?
Advertising claims that beauty treatments are 100 percent safe can be misleading, Chan warned.
A case in point is treating skin pigments. "There are many types of pigments, but not all of them can be removed by laser," Chan said.
She pointed out that the problem of melasma could worsen if treated by laser. People should remember that there is no such thing as a panacea.
From a doctor's perspective, making the right diagnosis is the first thing, since what seems to be a skin problem on the face could indicate an underlying medical problem. "If someone has acne, it is a medical problem. If defined as a disease, it should be managed by trained medical personnel."