The use of a laser for hair removal is a process that seems fairly simple. Protective eyewear is donned and cooling gel is applied to the treatment area. The machine is set to the correct level, the device is pressed against the skin, and a button is pushed. This sounds pretty simple – and usually it is.
However, there are things that can go wrong if someone unfamiliar with the device and appropriate treatment parameters tries to operate it. For example, determining the appropriate setting is not something that should be done by trial and error. Too low a setting will result in little or no effect on the hair follicles. Too high a setting can cause severe irritation up to and including burns and scarring.
There is also a delicate balance to strike for patients who have hair that is close to the color of their skin. Fair skinned patients with blond hair may not be good candidates for this procedure depending on the type of laser being used. Patients with deeply pigmented skin and dark hair may be at increased risk for developing dark patches of excess melanin in the treatment area. Is an untrained operator going to know what settings to use for these patients? Perhaps more important, do they know when to decline treatment for high-risk patients and direct them toward an alternative?
Restrictions Differ Across North America
At this time, the rules about who can operate a laser for hair removal vary by location. In the United States, lasers are considered medical devices and each state sets its own standards governing their use. In some locations, a doctor, physician’s assistant, or nurse practitioner must perform the actual procedure. In others, the task can be delegated to a trained technician as long as a medical professional is supervising. This supervision might consist of performing the initial patient consultation and determining the appropriate laser settings. Or, it can simply mean that the doctor must be present on the premises or on call in case of questions or emergencies when the laser is in use.
Currently, Canada has no laws requiring even minimal training for salon technicians who will be providing laser treatments. This has led to a high number of patient complaints about avoidable adverse reactions due to improper use of lasers. Many medical professionals agree that operating a hair removal laser doesn’t really require a medical degree – but that technician training is essential to provide safe and high quality care for all patients.