A 34-year old investment banker in New York filed a lawsuit in 2001, claiming she received second- and third-degree burns on her face and neck from laser hair removal treatments at the Greenhouse Spa chain’s midtown Manhattan office. She says the scarring has caused her to become a virtual recluse who doesn’t date anymore and is embarrassed at her job.
“I could smell the burning, I could feel my face on fire,” she said. “It was so painful, I could have screamed. I kept wondering when it would be over with.” When she told the spa’s beauty technician to stop because of the pain, the attendant rubbed ice on her face and “asked me if I was ready to do the other side.”
She said a doctor at the spa looked in and told her to buy some salve and go home. According to the complaint filed in Brooklyn Supreme Court, she was diagnosed with serious second- and third-degree burns that plastic surgery cannot repair. She now wears coverings on her face while at work to hide the deep scarring from her laser treatments. Her complaint states she continues to experience “depressed mood, loss of confidence and self-esteem, sleep impairment, anxiety and shame over facial scars.” She says she was told that the treatments were safe and conducted by trained technicians.
Use of these devices by non-physicians is currently being reviewed by FDA due to injuries such as these.
Despite claims by laser promoters that some kinds of lasers are “perfect” for darker and tanned skin, the likelihood of injury is much higher for darker skin tones.
To help protect yourself, insist on having a physician, preferably a dermatologist or plastic surgeon with lots of laser experience perform the treatment. If this is not an option, learn the qualifications of the person performing the procedure. In some states, they require no formal training of any kind. See my section on choosing a laser practitioner for more suggestions.
Finally, avoid excessive use of painkillers during the procedure. This can alert you to the fact that you are being overtreated.
Below: a photo of scarring following laser hair removal by a non-physician technician. Consumers with darker skin tones are strongly urged to rely on trained physicians once you’ve decided laser hair removal is worth the risk.