Laser treatments have revolutionized skincare; current therapies can remove hair, scars, tattoos, varicose veins, cellulite, fat, lesions, and acne as well as boost the growth of hair follicles and tighten your skin. However, all of these treatments are only effective so much as their operators are correctly trained, equipped, and safety minded. Researchers and, unfortunately, patients in the United Kingdom are learning the hard way the risks of using laser therapy at practices without proper regulations.
It all started in October of 2010 when the government regulations on laser skincare were adjusted. The regulations in place before that fall were seen as too restrictive, and many small business owners trying to use laser technology were discouraged by the red tape. The British government’s response was to do away with almost all regulations entirely. This was supported by the UK’s Department of Health, who saw the de-regulation as carrying “minimal risk” and budgeted £1.8 million to Britain’s socialized medicine program to aid patients harmed by future laser malpractice. Stanley Batchelor, an English laser specialist, was dismayed by the reaction and told English newspaper The Telegraph, "It was over-regulation, to be honest, but now we have gone full-swing [opposite]."
Approximately 10,000 UK clinics use laser therapies, and the equipment utilized can range from tested and well constructed devices to Chinese flat-market machines that cost as little as £1,600. Since the new regulations have taken effect reports have poured in describing hazardous accidents by technicians or equipment. Instances of laser injuries include numerous burns, scars, and one cringe-worthy account of a woman who experienced a hole burned into her forehead. President of the British Medical Laser Association, Professor Harry Mosely, warns that the biggest risk of laser misuse is blindness due to retina exposure, and that the cost of a botched treatment may be more that just a financial issue. "What concerns me more is the impact on the client, scarred for life,” he told The Telegraph. “This is not a cost that anybody should have to bear."
To make matters worse, the public has little to no access to information about which methods and standards British laser clinics operate by. This, along with the fact that few clinics outside London are responsible for upholding even the looser regulations, leaves the consumer in a bad spot. Experts like Batchelor and Mosely are trying to organize a method by which local councils can accreditate clinics in their township and offer safety information freely to the public. The UK Department of Health is responding to these concerns, albeit at a typical bureaucratic pace. One Department spokesman commented, "This will be considered as part of Professor Sir Bruce Keogh's review on whether cosmetic interventions need to be more effectively regulated."
Fortunately, America has stricter regulations on laser skincare. All United States laser skincare operators are required by law to pass a forty hour course and display certification to patrons if asked. Commercial and personal laser therapy devices are reviewed and approved by the FDA before going to market. Though the FDA has difficulty keeping up-to-date public information on each brand and model on the market, no business or manufacturer is allowed to advertise lasers for any treatment that hasn’t specifically been proven safe by the FDA. You can find a list of the currently approved lasers at the FDA’s Medical Device Database website.
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