Young people are turning to cosmetic procedures such as botox and dermal fillers as a result of social media pressure, according to a report.
A study by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics says government must protect people from an unregulated industry.
The report also condemns makeover apps and online plastic surgery games aimed at children as young as nine.
The authors fear such apps are contributing to growing anxieties around body image.
Much of the cosmetic procedures industry is unregulated so reliable data on its size is hard to come by.
In 2015 one market research company estimated the UK market could be worth as much as £3.6bn.
But there is little doubt it has grown significantly over the past decade.
Focus on body image
The report identifies several factors that are encouraging young people in particular to focus on body image.
These include increasing levels of anxiety around appearance, the rise of social media where photos can receive positive or negative ratings and the popularity of celebrity culture, complete with airbrushed images and apparently perfect lifestyles.
Prof Jeanette Edwards, from the University of Manchester, who chaired the council’s inquiry into ethical issues surrounding cosmetic procedures, said some of the evidence around games aimed at younger children had surprised the panel.
“We’ve been shocked by some of the evidence we’ve seen, including make-over apps and cosmetic surgery ‘games’ that target girls as young as nine.
“There is a daily bombardment from advertising and through social media channels like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat that relentlessly promote unrealistic and often discriminatory messages on how people, especially girls and women, ‘should’ look.”
Plastic surgery Apps
The report describes how apps with names such as “Plastic Surgery Princess”, “Little Skin Doctor” and “Pimp My Face” could be contributing to mental health problems in young people.
Prof Edwards also called for cosmetic procedures to be banned for anyone under 18 unless they involve a multi-disciplinary team of specialists, GPs and psychologists.
“Under 18s should not be able to just walk in off the street and have a cosmetic procedure.
“There are legal age limits for having tattoos or using sun beds. Invasive cosmetic procedures should be regulated in a similar way.”
‘Immense pressure on the young’
Charlie Massey, chief executive of the General Medical Council, which regulates doctors, said that it had already introduced standards for those performing cosmetic procedures to ensure they work safely and ethically and was developing similar guidelines for surgeons.
“Cosmetic interventions are not without risk, and anyone considering a procedure must have confidence that those carrying it out have the necessary skills and competence to do so safely.
“We hope this certification system will, in time, help set the standard for similar forms of accreditation in different areas of practice, that will provide additional reassurance to patients.”
A government spokesperson also said action had been taken to improve regulation.
But they added: “This report highlights once again that we live in a world where young people are under immense pressure on a daily basis about how they should look – it is ethically wrong for companies to exploit this and offer unnecessary cosmetic procedures to under 18s.”
Kevin Hancock, of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, whose members helped compile the report, said it “voices many of the same concerns” his organisation has.