Protecting the Public from Dishonest, Misleading Claims

It’s critically important for new medical aesthetics practitioners to know the industry’s rules and regulation before the needle hits the skin. 

Like any contemporary business, medical aesthetics practitioners starting off on a new career will want to get word out to the public that they are opening a practice.

Most generally that means creating a website, posting a profile on LinkedIn and joining social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Accuracy, truth and fairness must be used in the public dissemination of all content, and particularly in traditional advertising.

Properly trained practitioners in Ontario will need to know and follow advertising guidelines specific to medical aesthetics and the medical profession set by the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards. The Code is broadly supported by industry and is designed to help set and
maintain standards of honesty, truth, accuracy, fairness and propriety in advertising.

The Canadian Code of Advertising Standards provides provisions to ensure and self-regulate the acceptable advertising of products and services on radio and TV and in newspapers, magazines, flyers and the Internet.

Key standards in the Code include:

  1. Accuracy and Clarity

Advertisements must not contain or make, inaccurate, deceptive or otherwise misleading claims, statements, illustrations or representations. All advertising claims and representations must
be supported by competent and reliable evidence. For example, a claim that a certain service or provider “is the very best in the industry” cannot be used in advertising without actual and accurate support to back that up.

  1. Bait and Switch

Advertisements must not misrepresent the consumer’s opportunity to purchase the goods and services at the terms presented. If supply of a sale item is limited, or the seller can fulfill only limited demand, this must be clearly stated in the advertisement. Customers are “baited” by  advertising products or services at a low price, but then discover when they visit the clinic that the advertised goods are either not available or as good as expected. It is also not permitted to pressure customers to ‘buy up’ on products or services. For example, a clinic that advertises 20 units of a derma filler for $100 cannot coerce customers into buying additional units or similar products at inflated prices to make up for profits ‘lost’ in the savings special.

  1. Comparative Advertising

Advertisements must not unfairly discredit, disparage or attack products, services, advertisements, companies or entities, or exaggerate the nature or importance of competitive differences. For example, a company cannot advertise that the neurotoxin it uses is better or lasts longer than another filler. 

  1. Testimonials

Testimonials or endorsements must be genuine and based upon adequate information or experience with the identified product or service. They must not be deceptive. For example, a testimonial from a customer specific to skincare treatment cannot be used to directly or indirectly to  recommend a product or different procedure.   

  1. Imitation

No advertiser shall imitate the copy, slogans or illustrations of another advertiser in such a manner as to mislead the consumer. For example, a clinic cannot use and claim as its own the ‘before and after’ photos of another practitioner or company. 

  1. Unacceptable Depictions and Portrayals

Advertisements shall not demean, denigrate or disparage any identifiable person, group, organization or company, or attempt to bring it or them into public contempt or ridicule; For example, an advertisement for vaginal laser treatment with the tag line ‘Is your kitty loose?’ is in poor taste, unprofessional and demeaning to women.

More details on the above and other matters such as false prize claims and deceptive guarantees can be found on the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards website.

College Codes

Medical aesthetics practitioners with a professional background in nursing should understand the regulatory College in their province has a responsibility to oversee and enforce advertising standards.

The College of Nurses of Ontario, for one, maintains the public’s trust in the nursing profession by regulating advertisements through the Health Professions Procedural Code of the Nursing Act 1991. The CNO investigates complaints related to misleading advertising and orders penalties to “protect the public and enhance public confidence in the ability of the College to regulate nurses.”  (Read the Blog on recent acts of misconduct and suspensions in Ontario)

Under the standards of practice from the CNO, practitioners must in advertising include:

  • a description of your services to help clients make informed decisions
  • accurate, factual and verifiable information
  • evidence-based references to support statements
  • your name and protected title (RPN, RN or NP)

Advertisements must not include:

  • the College logo
  • false or misleading guarantees
  • references to a product that you use or sell in relation to its outcome
  • comparative, superlative or sensational claims
  • unsolicited client testimonials
  • false claims of memberships in professional societies or groups 

No practitioner should go into business without a thorough understanding of advertising provisions and guidelines or without knowledge of where to go with questions related to advertising.

Advertising codes and College regulations are discussed in depth during Course 4 of the Practitioners Program as offered at THMA Consulting.