Don't get burned on laser hair removal

Skin specialists warn laser hair removal may be fast and easy, but it can also be dangerous if the laser technician is untrained.

It may look simple, but it can go wrong.

As the laser glides over the skin, the light is absorbed by the hair shaft and destroys the hair follicle.

"The hair follicle implodes on itself and carbonizes and then will shed off after a couple of days," says Helen Ormston who runs a hair removal clinic.

But according to the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, heat from the laser can cause burns, scarring and changes in skin pigment.

The society has been documenting these mistakes and blames poorly-trained technicians who don't know how to adjust the strength of the laser.

"Increasingly, we're starting to see more burns, more inappropriately treated skin types and dissatisfied patients," says Dr. Stephen Mulholland of SpaMedica, a cosmetic and laser skin centre.

Lasers can do harm and yet they are unregulated in Canada.

The machines have to meet standards but the people who operate them do not. Anyone can buy a laser and go into business.

"Why isn't it regulated if all of these potential problems are out there?" asks Dr. Ann Curtis a dermatologist at Sunnybrook & Women's College Hospital in Toronto.

"I think basically the regulatory authorities just...have their hands full and are not looking for business."

Curtis and Mulholland would like to see restrictions.

"The government owes that to the citizen of each jurisdiction to protect them from unscrupulous business people that may try and take advantage of a boom in beautiful skin," says Mulholland.

He recommends doctors should be present wherever lasers are used.

Helen Ormston agrees training is critical. But she believes laser hair removal can be safe without a doctor.

"If you provide proper training for technicians, someone who has that basic hair or skin biology training can perform it. It's not rocket science."

The best advice is to find a clinic and ask about their training procedures, so you literally don't get burned.