SCMP Thursday, May 17, 2001

Ugly side of beauty business exposed


Beauty parlours are increasingly tricking customers into spending thousands of dollars on useless, unnecessary or non-existent treatment, the Consumer Council warned yesterday.
Unethical practices bordering on deception were becoming common, the council said, adding that the Government should consider a licensing system for the beauty and slimming industry to rein in the problem.
The number of complaints about the centres has more than tripled in the past three years: the council received 291 complaints last year, up from 147 in 1999 and 94 in 1998. By the end of April this year, 99 complaints had been lodged.
Larry Kwok Lam-kwong, vice-chairman of the council's publicity and community relations committee, said complaints about beauty centres were fuelling the council's push for the introduction of a general trade practices law, meaning unscrupulous businesses in any industry could be prosecuted for deceiving or misleading customers.
But he said the problem with beauty and slimming centres was so bad that a special licensing or regulatory system should be considered. "We need to further explore the licence arrangement and certainly this is a direction we're looking at," he said.
Among the complaints investigated by the council was one involving a woman who agreed to pay $1,000 to have her eyebrows tattooed. Half-way through the treatment, she was told she had developed an allergy and needed to pay $2,800 for anti-allergy drugs. She had little choice but to pay. After the treatment, she was told she needed antibiotics and drugs to treat the swelling around her eyebrows, taking her total bill to $6,800.
The council said another woman paid $88,000 after being promised that the hair on her legs and underarms would be removed permanently after five treatment sessions. However, during the second session she was given a facial and, while she was not wearing her contact lenses, was given a contract to sign which, she later realised, said she would have hair-removal treatment for two years.
In a third case, a woman paid $10,900 for slimming treatment to improve her waistline. After three months she complained that she had lost only 2.5cm, and was told she had breached her contract with the centre by eating pork chops and chicken with rice. Before signing up, however, the woman had twice been told there were no dietary restrictions.
Another complainant paid $5,000 for coupons entitling her to 20 sessions of beauty therapy. After the first, she was persuaded to buy a further 30 coupons for $7,000 more. From then on, however, she found it difficult to get an appointment to use the vouchers and after four months had only managed to have five visits.
Mr Kwok urged beauty and slimming centres to offer clients detailed information on treatment, including the science behind it. He said consumers should ask about side effects of any drugs or equipment used, and read any contract carefully before signing it. He said that if staff made oral promises about the treatment or the results to be expected but were not willing to put them in writing, potential clients should leave without agreeing to anything.
Deborah Sims, who runs the Body by Deborah fitness and beauty chain, said yesterday she welcomed a licensing system. "A lot of the beauty salons and slimming centres claim a lot of things and are not very professional, which affects people like us - we don't promise heaven and try to get whatever money we can. Some sort of control . . . would be good for the industry."