UK non-surgical cosmetic treatments could grow to £3bn

New research from LaingBuisson suggests that while demand for cosmetic surgery in the UK has softened since the global economic crisis and PIP scandal, non-surgical treatments are booming. The UK cosmetic surgery market is estimated at around £273m (US$345m) in 2017, however estimates for the non-surgical market suggest it could be worth in excess of £3bn (US$3.8bn) within the next five years.

New research on the UK cosmetic surgery market from LaingBuisson suggests that demand for cosmetic surgery has softened since the global economic crisis and PIP scandal but non-surgical treatments are booming as ‘polish and perfect’ becomes the motto of the social media generation.

The findings of LaingBuisson’s first major study into the UK cosmetic enhancement market has revealed a split in its fortunes with near-static growth in the cosmetic surgery sector pitted against a buoyant market for non-surgical interventions such Botox™ and injectable fillers.

Figures compiled for the soon to be released LaingBuisson’s Cosmetic Surgery – first edition, estimate that the UK cosmetic surgery market was valued at around £273m in 2017, with little evidence of real terms growth over the last five years.

Meanwhile, the non-surgical market is burgeoning and although estimates regarding its overall value vary, figures suggest it could be worth in excess of £3bn within the next five years.

Report author Liz Heath said the growing acceptance of cosmetic procedures that has coincided with the rise in social media means younger consumers in particular are more confident about seeking advice and treatment, particularly for non-surgical procedures.

‘Non-surgical cosmetic treatment is now viewed as an integral part of a beauty and wellbeing programme by many women and also, increasingly, men since it offers a fast and relatively inexpensive ‘fix’. In some cases, an injectable treatment costs no more than a high-end face cream and can achieve noticeable results, making it attractive to a much broader demographic and socio-economic group,’ she said.

Although the traditional surgery market is not currently enjoying the same high levels of growth being experienced in the non-surgical sector, it too is becoming more widely accepted among the 18-40 age group. And, according to Heath, could stand to benefit from the surge in popularity of non-surgical treatments.

‘One upside for cosmetic surgery providers is that non-surgical treatments can act as a ‘gateway’ for more complex procedures. We found that people having non-surgical treatment often eventually turn to full surgical intervention, for example when dermal fillers no longer produce the desired results, patients progress to facelifts, while laser lipolysis patients may move on to tummy tucks.’

The boom in non-surgical interventions is predominantly being driven by a younger demographic, but the research found that cultivating these long-term relationships with patients could prove key to market growth.

‘Future demand is not just likely to come from a younger demographic keen to improve their image, but from creating mutually beneficial long-term relationships with patients and clients,’ said Heath. ‘Purely from a financial perspective of course, it is much less expensive for providers to create customer loyalty than the costs of attracting new customers, but in a growing market, providers need to balance both.’

Interestingly, the report identified a shift in the underlying drivers of consumer demand as potential patients looked to ‘polish and perfect’ rather than ‘rectify problems’. This was particularly the case for non-surgical interventions, reinforcing the ‘normalisation’ of non-surgical intervention as part of an overall health, beauty and wellness regime.

However, the report also noted a split in consumer behaviour, with the older demographic more likely to undertake substantial research into individual hospitals and clinicians while younger consumers often wanted to organise treatment as soon as possible.

‘Instagram’ generation

‘Social media, the ‘Instagram’ generation and pressures within society to achieve a ‘look’ are frequently cited as influencing factors, particularly among the younger demographic. This group is looking for instant improvement, not long-term rejuvenation,’ said Heath. ‘The reverse is true of the older demographic, who take a longer-term view of cosmetic surgery as part of a wider wellbeing mindset. This demographic is also likely to be a repeat client for hospitals and surgeons and is more likely to want to develop a longer-term clinical relationship, with perhaps more invasive surgical interventions interspersed with non-surgical enhancements. This demographic is also less likely to be driven by costs of treatment.’

Independent research undertaken for LaingBuisson highlighted that around 76% of searches for information on breast enlargement were carried out using a mobile phone: the advent of the smartphone has clearly been a game changer in terms of how consumers search for and access cosmetic surgery and non-surgical treatments.

Demand for surgery

Overall, demand for surgical procedures has softened since the 2008 financial crisis and the PIP scandal of 2012. And the figures indicate marginal growth of 0.5% in real terms in 2017 due to continued consumer caution. Figures are more difficult to analyse for the highly fragmented non-surgical market, which is still considered a ‘wild west’ in regulatory quarters, but information provided by Save Face, a national register of accredited practitioners who provide non-surgical cosmetic treatments, indicate that the industry was worth £2.3bn in 2010 and could already have reached £3.6bn. Although precise figures are difficult to pin down, an indicative growth rate of 55% in under a decade illustrates the future potential of the market.

‘Spending on cosmetic surgery in 2017 is projected to have increased only very marginally in real terms, though in nominal terms growth was clearly higher than in 2016,’ said Heath. ‘Improved prospects were highlighted by some specialist cosmetic providers. However, trends reported by the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons suggest a less optimistic picture for 2017, as its survey reported a continued fall in cosmetic surgery volumes for its members.’

The outlook

Looking ahead, the surgical market is expected to remain fairly static, although the picture could vary significantly between different procedures and different geographies, with demand for popular procedures such as breast augmentation likely to increase and areas such as London and the north west continuing to be ‘cosmetic surgery hotspots’.

The biggest future changes are likely to be seen in the non-surgical market, where techniques are rapidly evolving, and, for example, the use of lasers is now common even in a small clinic setting. The concept of non-surgical treatment being seen very much as part of a normal beauty and wellness regime is also likely to drive increased activity.

The non-surgical market still lacks regulation, despite recommendations made in 2013. The proliferation of unregistered, non-clinical practitioners is a great cause for concern.

Save Face recently commented that of their complaints, over 80% were concerning injectables and fillers from un-registered practitioners. Self-regulation and greater oversight are beginning to have an impact and the Department of Health has confirmed it is reviewing the current market.

‘Prospects for cosmetic surgery are dependent on consumer confidence and also confidence in cosmetic treatments’, said Heath.

‘Currently, there are vulnerabilities to both these factors. First, future economic prosperity is uncertain at this time with Brexit hanging over the UK. While secondly, confidence in cosmetic treatments has been improving since demand took a knock from the PIP scandal several years ago, and progressive self-regulatory initiatives within the industry to protect the interests of patients is likely to support stronger confidence going forward. Demand for cosmetic surgery may also be impacted by the popularity of non-surgical cosmetics.’

‘Fresh non-surgical alternatives tend to attract strong interest, as highlighted by fat freezing, and other non-surgical fat removal procedures. While interest in non-surgical solutions is likely to remain high, outcomes delivered by surgical procedures are likely to remain distinct from alternatives.’