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Complaints about health and beauty advertising rise by 40%

Gaelle Walker
10 May 2021

Health and beauty was the second most complained-about sector in terms of its advertising in 2020, narrowly behind the UK’s leisure sector, a new report by the UK’s Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) and the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) has revealed.

In 2020 there were 5,285 complaints made about health and beauty adverts – up 40% on 2019, the ASA and CAP Protecting Young and Vulnerable People Annual Report 2020 showed.

The health and beauty sector also had the largest number of adverts amended and withdrawn in 2020.

Across the industry spectrum, online cases made up 61% of all cases and nearly half of all complaints across media, with 17,379 complaints about 14,512 cases.

Complaints about influencer posts decreased by 8% but still made up almost 1/4 of online cases.

CAP is currently consulting on new rules that will prohibit advertising for cosmetic interventions across all media, including online, from being directed at those under the age of 18.

At present there are no legal restrictions on the placing and scheduling of ads for cosmetic interventions to children and young people.

CAP is also preparing to launch a call for evidence to examine the potential harms relating to body image and the potential impact of advertising on consumers’ mental health.

The ASA has also recently moved to ban the misleading use of filters on social media beauty posts, and influencer posts promoting weight loss injections amid “heightened consumer concerns about putting on weight as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

“This context made it even more important that we investigated and published rulings against three advertisers promoting the use of licensed injectable prescription-only medicines for weight loss, including by influencers on Instagram,” the ASA said.

Commenting on the report, ASA chief executive Guy Parker said: “Despite the huge challenges of the last 12 months, we doubled down on protecting children and people in vulnerable circumstances. We smashed our previous record of ads amended or withdrawn.

"We’re exploring holding online platforms to greater account for their role in upholding responsible ads online and we’re running important projects on the environment, racial and ethnic stereotyping and body image.

"In all of this, our increased use of technology is transforming the way we tackle harmful and misleading ads and helping us to better protect people.”

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