Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2017




It has become common practice for dermatologists to offer cosmetic enhancing products and procedures and to do so alongside the medically required services offered (e.g., annual skin checks, treatment of rashes, removal of pre-cancerous moles, etc.). As a patient, it is likely that a visit to the dermatologist will include exposure to advertisements for these cosmetic products and procedures. Advertisements are found in the waiting area, examination room, and, in some cases, even at checkout in the form of a coupon for future use, all situated where the patient is a captive audience. This practice may not be the cause of our society’s ubiquitous focus on beauty as perfection; however, these practices arguably contribute to this culture, harming not only individual patients but also society as a whole. Further, since the physician’s endorsement of these products and procedures carries added weight, above and beyond that of a normal citizen or another non-medical professional, the impact on perpetuating a culture of beauty as perfection is even greater.

Given this, in this essay I argue that the practice of dermatologists advertising, offering, and profiting from cosmetic enhancing products and procedures is unethical, violating the most basic bioethical principles. To demonstrate how this is the case I unpack how the culture of beauty as perfection is oppressive and therefore problematic; how dermatologist feed into, perpetuate, and profit from this culture; and how this practice is an ethical violation. Central to my analysis is an account of the commonly accepted bioethical principles within a framework of a social conception of the self. The implications of this analysis and findings include a need for clear guidelines offered by various medical oversight associations including the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), the American Society for Dermatological Surgery (ASDS) and the American Medical Association (AMA). These guidelines should reflect a robust ethical analysis of this practice, ideally in conversation with the analysis offered herein. Once offered, physicians should follow these guidelines and, until then, should proceed with an abundance of caution, ideally ceasing to advertise, promote, or use biotechnologies in their practices for solely cosmetic reasons until more nuanced guidelines are available.


This article was published in Ethics & Medicine: An International Journal of Bioethics, which can be found here:

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