Campaigners from a consumer watchdog warn that Britons may be unwilling lab rats, due to a poor regulation of cosmetic products.
The group called 'Which?' in its magazine claims that companies are testing cosmetic fillers in the UK before applying for a US license, which is a lot tougher to get.
AdvertisementAs of now, only seven fillers (injectable substances used to reduce wrinkles) containing hyaluronic acid are licensed in the US as against 65 in the UK.
Each year around 400,000 people undergo non-surgical cosmetic treatments such as fillers, and the numbers are rising. Most cosmetic fillers in the UK are covered by EU legislation, which allows companies to self-certify or use independent testing laboratories.
An example of weak regulation, according to the watchdog is Isolagen - a treatment that used patients' own cells to smooth out skin. The treatment was withdrawn in the US in 1999 but introduced to Britain in 2002. Which? also claims that the manufacturers have used information gathered in Britain to support its pending license application to the Federal Drug Administration in the US.
Isolagen has now closed its European operation and has withdrawn from the British market.
Says Jenny Driscoll, health campaigner at Which? : "At the moment Britain is effectively a testing ground for cosmetic treatments. "New products are coming onto the market all the time and the regulation needs to keep up with the science.
"If the Department of Health doesn't step up and recognize the flaws in the system, it is leaving Brits potentially at risk", she warns.
A spokesperson for the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency agreed the regulatory status of dermal fillers was currently undetermined. The MHRA and the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform are in discussions as to whether such products should be regulated as medical devices or as cosmetics.
Yet, Douglas McGeorge, president of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, opines that the problem lies not with the fillers themselves, but with those offering the procedure. "Isolagen worked well for what it was, which was just a filler, but claimed all sorts of weird and wonderful things and was advertised directly to the public.
"If you went to a sensible clinic, they would say I don't think this is a good idea, but a less reputable one would give it", he explains.
According to him, fillers were not in themselves unsafe and the FDA was too restrictive in what it licensed.