Definitions and aims

plain_face_pen_marks_croppedThere are no clearly agreed definitions as to what constitutes a cosmetic procedure. Even in surgical procedures, it is not always straightforward to draw clear dividing lines between reconstructive or therapeutic procedures and those undertaken for cosmetic purposes: breast reconstructions after mastectomy, for example, are essentially undertaken for aesthetic reasons, rather than because they are medically necessary; and procedures regarded as ‘cosmetic’ may also be necessary after bariatric surgery.

People seeking cosmetic procedures may do so in order to enhance their appearance in accordance with prevailing beauty norms (for example in seeking breast augmentation, facelifts, and liposuction, or in the routine use of dental braces for children), or alternatively  in order to ‘normalise’ their appearance (for example when seeking surgery for prominent ears). Less routine examples of procedures offered include: limb-lengthening surgery, the removal of additional fingers or toes, and gender reassignment procedures. The desire to be ‘more beautiful’ or look ‘more normal’ may also be underpinned by the hope that changes in appearance will lead to greater happiness, or greater success.

For non-surgical procedures, it is difficult to draw clear dividing lines between everyday beauty routines and procedures that span the beauty/clinical divide, such as chemical peels, laser treatments, skin-whitening treatments, dermal fillers and botulinum toxin (‘Botox’). Further distinctions arise between these procedures and other methods used to change appearance, such as tanning, piercing and tattooing, which are not ordinarily described as cosmetic procedures.


1.    What, in your view, counts as a ‘cosmetic procedure’?

2.    What do you see as the underlying aim of cosmetic procedures (a) from the perspective of those seeking a procedure and (b) from the perspective of those providing procedures? How does this differ for different social groups?

3.    Most people use their clothes, hairstyle, and make up to beautify themselves. Does it make a difference when appearance is altered through biomedical or surgical procedures?

How to submit your response

Please email your response to Kate Harvey at, with ‘Cosmetic procedures’ in the subject line. If possible, responses should be in the form of a single Word document, with question numbers clearly indicated.

Please ensure that you also include a completed response form with your submission, which can be found on page 11 in the call for evidence document or downloaded here.

If you would prefer to respond by post, please send your submission to:

Kate Harvey
Nuffield Council on Bioethics
28 Bedford Square
London WC1B 3JS

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