A Vancouver woman is suing the owner/operator of a local cosmetic laser clinic, claiming he was negligent during a simple hair removal procedure — causing a serious burn to a tattoo that was supposed to be completely off limits.
In making the allegations, Jenna Bind, 31, is also calling on the B.C. government to regulate the industry that she says operates in a "very gray area in the legislation and the rule books".
The laser hair removal business is virtually unregulated in B.C., even though the powerful machines can cause burns, scarring and discolouration of the skin.
The case has also attracted the attention of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C. — prompting a warning about the "wild west" nature of the industry, and sparking an investigation into the owner's claim he's a "medical doctor".
The College says its records show Mehran "Ron" Mahmoudian has never been registered as a doctor in the province.
"Excruciating" burn to tattoo
In the civil action filed in B.C. Supreme court, Bind is seeking unspecified damages for "significant burns, scarring, and on-going pain" after she allegedly underwent a hair removal procedure on her lower abdomen in December 2014.
She told CBC News the pain she experienced at the Silky Laser & Med Spa — also known as Silky Laser Skincare Centre — was "excruciating" and lasted for weeks.
"It was a very sharp, high pain. It was very intense when he first hit the tattoo", says Bind.
Hair removal lasers are never to be used on tattoos, because dark skin — like dark hair — absorbs the laser's light and intense heat.
In her lawsuit, Bind says Mahmoudian himself brought up the dangers of firing a laser near a tattoo during her initial consultation.
According to her claim, "The defendant Mahmoudian advised (Bind) that he cannot do laser hair removal on the tattoo…and (both) agreed that laser hair removal will not be performed on any tattooed areas."
Bind says two sessions over several months were performed without complication.
"Negligence and/or...intentional battery" alleged
But Bind alleges on the third session, she and Mahmoudian had an argument over a cancelled appointment.
"He was visibly upset" recalls Bind, "He started going along the line, and all of a sudden I felt a small pinch and I was kind of like, 'What was that?' And he said, 'Oh, sorry, maybe the beam was on too high…and that's when the excruciating burn happened. I sat right up and said, 'What happened?' He said 'Oh, I might have just hit your tattoo a little, I'm really sorry."
Later that evening, Bind claims the burned tattoo started to bubble.
"I noticed that it wasn't just a little bit of tattoo, there was a tiny bit of the tattoo that I assume was the first burn, but then skipped directly into the centre of the tattoo."
The burn quickly developed into a large open sore.
"It was extremely deep…millimetres deep" says Bind, "and that was part of what I think made it so painful."
Bind's lawsuit alleges "Mahmoudian negligently and/or intentionally performed laser hair removal on a tattoo", claiming "negligence and/or in the alternative, wrongful and intentional battery."
Denies all wrong-doing
Mahmoudian refused CBC requests for an interview — but in his response to the civil claim, he denies all wrongdoing.
He also denies Bind came in for a laser treatment the day she alleges she was burned.
"(Bind) did not return to Silky Laser Skincare for the third laser hair removal procedure on December 15, 2014. This was missed. As a result no treatment was done…" states his legal response.
Mahmoudian also claims he "is a certified and qualified technician aesthtician (sic). I also hold a medical degree."
In fact, the Silky Laser and Med Spa website states "All procedures/treatments performed at Silky Laser Skincare Centre are done by medical doctors…"
The claim is also repeated on the Groupon website, where Bind purchased a discount deal for the laser treatments.
The Groupon site states that Silky's lasers are "wielded by medical doctors."
Bind says that was one of the reasons she purchased the treatments.
Not licensed as doctor
But CBC News checked with the body that regulates B.C. doctors.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C. says Mahmoudian might have a foreign medical degree — but he's not licensed to practice here.
Registrar Dr. Heidi Oetter says anyone making a misleading claim will be investigated.
"We may get their undertaking to completely change their website to make it very clear they are not medical doctors, and if necessary, we may get an injunction from the court to shut them down permanently," said Oetter.
But the procedures performed by cosmetic laser hair removal clinics are not deemed medical in nature, even though the powerful laser devices used are labelled class 3 medical devices by Health Canada.
"Wild West-ish" laser clinics
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C. warns the public should beware of unregulated clinics.
"It is a bit Wild West-ish" says Dr. Oetter, throwing up her hands. "If they're not licensed, you can't be certain of anything."
Dr. Oetter suggests the province could better monitor the industry, by bringing in a "1-800" number, "where citizens could start bringing their complaints forward."
But B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake says while the province might get involved, consumers need to do their own research.
"Whether the government should play a role here, I think is a consideration we would have to give. But I really encourage people to see what they're getting into, before they subject themselves to these kinds of treatments."
Calls to regulate
Jenna Bind says she thought she did her due diligence — reassured by Silky Laser's on-line claim all procedures were done by medical doctors.
She wants the province to finally regulate the industry and protect the public.
"The public should care, because it can happen to anyone" says Bind.
"Previously I [thought] that laser was an easy thing to do, but it's a lot of power in someone's hands."
"The most important thing is making sure it doesn't happen to anybody."
None of the allegations has been proven in court. A trial date for the civil lawsuit has not been set.
With files from Yvette Brend