When news about an exotic dancer burned by a laser hair removal treatment surfaced a month ago, several people forwarded me the article. Understandably, those who saw the news felt concerned and alarmed by the gruesome looking photos shown on CBC, CTV and other media outlets as far flung as the UK.
Apparently, her treatment was performed at a reputable clinic in Vancouver with physicians on staff. The article quoted a board member of the Beauty Council of Western Canada who called Canada “the Wild West” when it comes to the regulation of laser treatments.
When I looked at the photos, I saw skin that looked tawny and bronzed, with obvious burn marks in the form of hyperpigmentation as well as hypopigmentation. Hyperpigmentation is the skin’s response to injury, where it produces additional melanin that results in dark marks on the skin. Hypopigmentation can often follow (as it did in this case) after hyperpigmentation, and it is a loss of pigmentation in the area due to injury that interrupts the skin’s normal ability to produce melanin.
Such scarring can happen if an individual does laser while having a suntan or having used bronzer on the area. It can also happen if the individual receives more than a little sun exposure in the month follow laser treatment. This may or may not have been the case for the client harmed in the article. It is also possible that the technician selected the wrong laser wavelength to use on her skin.
While it is important for those considering cosmetic procedures to be fully aware of the associated risks, it is equally as important for them to know how to choose their treatment provider. Outcomes can vary based on an individual’s skin type as well as how informed both they and their provider are.
So, how does one make an informed decision when it comes to laser treatments?
To help, I’d like to propose a “Top 5” list of factors that matter when it comes to having a good outcome from laser treatment:
1. The consultation - Ideally, you will do an initial consultation with the provider who will do the treatments on you prior to beginning. The consultation should be thorough and should include setting realistic expectations as to the outcome of the treatment, discussing pre and post care instructions (particularly those related to sun exposure, tanning beds and body bronzers), going over health history and determining skin type. If a consultation isn’t performed, or if you are not sure what to do or what to expect before and after the treatment, beware!
2. The type of laser - Not all lasers are created equal. There are more expensive, powerful lasers and less expensive, less powerful lasers. Both can be dangerous in the wrong hands. Do 10 minutes of reading online about the wavelength that will be used on you to make sure it’s suitable. If your treatment provider doesn’t know what the wavelength is, this should give you some pause.
Here is a quick guide for your reference:
- Alexandrite Laser 755nm - Mainly only safe for light skin, great for hair removal, pigmentation, veins
- ND Yag 1064nm - Safest for dark or non-caucasian skin, great for hair removal and may be used for vein treatment and skin rejuvenation (given a variety of considerations)
- Diode - Mainly only safe for light skin tones
- IPL - Not actually laser; only suitable for lighter skin tones
* There are many types of laser... this is only a short list
3. Sun exposure - Don’t do laser when you have a real or fake tan and use at least SPF30 daily on treated areas that are exposed to daylight. This should be done for at least 2 weeks post treatment minimum during the winter and for one month minimum during other seasons.
4. Pre & post care - Follow pre and post care instructions. Discontinuing products with retinol and acids such as glycolic and salicylic acids for at least 5 days prior to treatment is important. Many acne medications should also be discontinued for this amount of time prior to treatment, including those with Benzoyl Peroxide. No procedures should be done while on Accutane.
5. Know your provider - Learn about the credentials and experience of your treatment provider. Both are important. While they may be a physician, do they have experience doing laser? Did they receive credentials specific to providing laser treatments? Were they trained by the company that manufactures the laser, which can make a huge difference to knowing how to operate that particular device? Also, consistency of practitioners is important. It’s hard to maintain a standard quality of care when there’s a revolving door of new practitioners at every appointment. Try to ensure you’re booked with the same one every time!
While I am not a physician, I am a Certified Laser Technician based on my education and credentials. I was also trained by the manufacturer of the laser I own as well as the others I’ve operated in the past. I have experience with doing laser on all skin types and for all different applications. It’s this type of background that should give those looking to receive laser treatment reassurance that they are in good hands.
Still, despite the best of intentions, there are inherent risks to laser treatment - as there are with many things in life. It’s impossible to be certain of outcomes, though it is easier to expect good ones when everyone is better informed.