Shanghai restricts Chinese minors from cosmetic surgery and bans tattoos

The city of Shanghai launched a new initiative that targets tattooing and medical beauty procedures for minors.
PHOTO: Handout

China's largest city will restrict medical beauty procedures and ban tattooing for minors starting Tuesday (Mar 1) as both are gaining increased popularity among young Chinese people.

The Shanghai government said people under 18 years old will be prohibited from cosmetic surgery without approval from their guardians. Tattoo parlours are completely banned from offering their services to minors.

The updates were part of amended municipal regulations aimed at protecting minors that took effect on March 1.

China is experiencing a boom in the number of young residents who are opting for beauty procedures, which contributed to an estimated market size of over 184 billion yuan (S$39.6 billion), according to So-Young, a leader in the industry. That number includes adults.

A Chinese woman undergoes double eyelid surgery in South Korea. PHOTO: Reuters

According to a report by state-owned Legal Daily last year, double eyelid surgery is the most popular procedure for minors in mainland China. The procedure involves cutting a permanent crease in the eyelids, a genetic feature missing in about half of people born in East Asia.

Zhu Wei, an associate professor from China University of Political Science and Law, said Shanghai's move is necessary and should be copied by other local governments as younger Chinese are lured by medical institutions, many being illegal, to change their appearance.

"It not only confuses their values and how they see themselves, but the treatments create a physical and mental health risk, especially because many institutions do not abide by the law," he said.

According to an industry report by Shanghai-based consulting firm iResearch, in 2019 only 14 per cent of cosmetic surgery service providers in China were legally registered.

In the meantime, the China Plastic and Beauty Association said in 2020 that it received around 20,000 complaints of disfigurement due to unsuccessful beauty procedures each year, a figure that includes adult patients.

However, Zhu said authorities need to avoid one-size-fits-all enforcement of the new policy.

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"Some procedures, such as those for cleft lips, should be performed as early as possible. So there should be different regulations on operations to cure birth defects and those purely for beautification," he said.

The southern city of Guangzhou, another hub of aesthetic procedures in China, introduced a similar ban in 2014. The city said minors should avoid cosmetic surgery, but institutions could go ahead if the patient obtains their guardians' approval for "special reasons".

As for tattooing, body art is becoming increasingly popular in China, especially among younger generations. However, there is still widespread disapproval for tattoos in society, and the central government has cracked down on tattoos on public figures.

For example, tattoos were banned from the Chinese national football team in December 2021, even if they could be covered during matches. In a statement at the time, the General Administration of Sport said, "those who already have tattoos are advised to remove them themselves".

There is currently no nationwide minimum age to get a tattoo in China. For comparison, the US also has no federal minimum age for tattooing, but all 50 states and the District of Columbia have implemented a ban on tattooing people under 18 years old.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.