Understand the risks of light-based cosmetic services

Light-based cosmetic services use laser or intense light sources, such as intense pulsed light (IPL) devices to alter the external physical appearance of a person.

Currently there are no Australia-wide requirements on who may deliver a light-based cosmetic service using laser or IPL devices. In Queensland the only people required to undergo training and acquire a licence are those who use ‘class 4’ laser devices. It is important to be aware of the health risks associated with laser and IPL services.

Incorrectly performed services using laser and intense light devices can result in serious injury and adverse outcomes, including:

  • permanent scarring
  • burns
  • eye damage
  • pigmentation changes (darkening or lightening of the skin)
  • infection
  • blistering
  • increased hair growth.

These adverse outcomes can be caused by:

  • use of a laser or IPL by an untrained technician
  • inappropriate use of a device
  • patient medications that may make skin more sensitive to light not taken into consideration or disclosed during initial consultation before the service
  • equipment malfunction
  • safety procedures not being followed, for example protective eyewear.

Conducting research when selecting a provider, proper education on how the service works, what to expect and how to care for the targeted area will help minimise the risks associated with your chosen service.

Consult with a medical practitioner

It is very important to have a medical practitioner check the area of the skin that is going to be targeted, especially any blemishes or moles, or excess hair growth before having any light-based cosmetic service. These skin blemishes or moles may be symptoms of other health issues, or cosmetic service could adversely change the nature of the blemish. Light-based cosmetic services may aggravate the underlying health condition or remove or disguise symptoms of serious skin diseases such as melanomas.

There may be other factors or conditions that could mean you may not be able to have the light-based cosmetic service, including:

  • pregnancy, trying to conceive, IVF treatment or breastfeeding
  • medical conditions such as epilepsy, diabetes, autoimmune disease, allergies
  • skin conditions such as acne or eczema
  • melatonin injections within the last 6 months
  • chemical or radiation therapy in the past 6 months
  • medications including those that cause sensitivity to light
  • metal implants
  • natural, spray or fake tan within the last 2 weeks.

See your medical practitioner for advice on factors and conditions that may apply to you before you undergo the service.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding

Seek medical advice before having a light-based cosmetic service if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Changes in the body chemistry can make applications less effective and long-term results less predictable. Negative pigmentation effects are more likely to occur, for example melasma, or ‘pregnancy mask’.

Choosing a reputable provider

It’s important to do some research on the service providers you are considering. Light-based cosmetic services can be performed at skin or laser clinics, salons, businesses or medical practices by:

  • laser technicians
  • dermal technicians
  • beauty technicians
  • nurses
  • medical practitioners.

The premises should specifically be dedicated for the purposes of delivering these services.

A competent technician should have a high-level of service specific qualifications, knowledge and experience. It’s important to check for service-specific qualifications and training, as a high-level qualification, such as a medical practitioner, does not mean the technician has the specific qualifications or training. Any training, qualification information and licences (if applicable) should be displayed in plain view.

Be aware, the only technicians in Queensland required by legislation to undergo training are those using ‘class 4’ laser devices. You can view the register of licensees allowed to use laser apparatus for specified cosmetic services and learn more about the qualification requirements for these technicians.

What to discuss with the service provider

A reputable technician should hold a consultation session with you prior to any light-based cosmetic service. An in-depth, service specific discussion should include:

  • how the service is done, including what to expect during the application, the equipment to be used and how it’s maintained
  • how to prepare for the service
  • the risks and potential side effects for the specific service
  • the expected results
  • any previous light-based cosmetic services you may have had
  • your medical history and medications
  • a skin analysis (patch test, Fitzpatrick scale, etc.)
  • caring for the targeted area after the service
  • their relevant training, qualifications and experience.

Based on the consultation your technician should create a personalised service plan that includes information such as the expected number of applications needed, your skin type, equipment settings and your risk level.

Your technician may request you seek a letter from your medical practitioner if the effects of your current medical condition on the service is unknown.

Medications may affect your service

Some medications make the skin more sensitive to light, including St John’s Wort. This can cause negative reactions during a light-based cosmetic service.

Disclose all medication use to your technician, including:

  • prescribed
  • non-prescribed
  • topical
  • herbal.

Never ceases prescription medication without confirmation from a medical practitioner.

Tanning may affect your service

An active tan in the targeted area will heighten the risk of a negative reaction. Heat delivered by the application will affect the already sensitive area and may result in a negative reaction.

Light-based cosmetic services are not suitable if tanning injections are in use. Stop all natural, spray or fake tanning 2 weeks prior to your service.

What should I do if the service results in an injury?

Your service provider will explain if the discomfort you experience during the application is normal or not. If the application is causing significant discomfort or unexpected pain, you should insist the technician stops immediately.

Seek medical attention immediately if the reaction is serious, for example sever redness or blistering occurs during or after the application.

A negative reaction post-treatment may appear immediately after an application or up to 48 hours following. Contact your technician immediately if you are concerned you may be having a negative reaction.

Registering a complaint

Contact the service provider if you are dissatisfied with how your situation has been handled.

If you cannot resolve the issue with the service provider, you may wish to contact a government authority or take legal action. Your contact will vary depending on what device has been used and the qualifications of your technician:

The complaint is in relation toContact
A laser or IPL device or technician Radiation Health Unit
A business Office of Fair Training Queensland
A medical clinic or practitioner Office of the Health Ombudsman

If making a complaint, provide as much detail and evidence as possible, including dates, photos, names of the business and your technician, and a thorough detail of the complaint.

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