Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued a fatwa banning male surgeons from performing cosmetic procedures on women, Iranian media reported Thursday.
The religious order is binding and must be followed by the country's medical profession.
The ruling came in response to a question from one of Ayatollah Khamenei's followers, who asked about the prevalence of plastic surgery among young Iranian women, according to Kayhan newspaper.
"If a cosmetic surgery does not cause significant physical damage, then the practice is not a problem," the supreme leader said, in remarks carried by London-based Iran International television channel.
"However, it must be noted that cosmetic surgery for aesthetic reasons is not a medical treatment and the unrelated male surgeon's viewing and touching of the patient's body is not allowed," he concluded.
Iran has one of the highest rates of cosmetic surgeries worldwide, with a quarter of million women undergoing procedures annually, according to Etemad daily.
The industry, in which male surgeons are overwhelmingly predominant, attracts patients from across the Middle East and thousands of expatriated Iranians, drawn by affordable rates due to the low value of the rial.
"Khamenei's fatwa will certainly dry up the revenues of the male cosmetic surgeons as there are very few female surgeons in the business," said one London-based Iranian doctor.
"We should expect some backlash from the industry as the fatwa is now a state policy."
Some Iranians online criticised Ayatollah Khamenei's fatwa, noting that Iran is still battling one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the Middle East.
"Does he not have any other important work to do other than issue these orders while the country has so many problems?" one asked.
"Does this mean a male cosmetic surgeon has to get married to his female patient first in order to operate on her nose?" another Iranian joked.
Some Iran observers viewed the ruling and its targeting of young women as signs that Iran's conservatives are preparing to contest the presidential election next June by rousing their base.
"The next presidential election will be a turning point in the history of Iran," the Imam of Friday prayer in Tehran, Mohammad Javad Akbari, said last week.
"We are now preparing the social and political grounds for the establishment of the first ever young Hezbollahi government in our country," he said, paraphrasing Ayatollah Khamenei's stated wish for religiously minded governance.