Laser hair removal surgery has been linked to reports of severe and permanent scarring, with an increasing number of lawsuits being filed over problems following removal procedures that left individuals with burns and disfiguring injuries.
A recent report by the New York Times Consumer Blog outlines the potential laser hair removal risks, highlighting the increasing concerns over the number of minimally trained non-physicians who are conducting the procedures.
According to the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, dermatologic surgeons performed 488,100 laser hair removal procedures in 2011. However, the society does not know how many nonphysicians performed such procedures.
In recent years, a growing number of medical malpractice lawsuits over botched laser surgery procedures are being filed against nonphysicians, according to a study published in JAMA Dermatology last October. Researchers found that the percentage of laser surgery lawsuits involving nonphysician operators jumped to 78 percent in 2011, up from just 36 percent in 2008. Laser hair removal was the procedure most frequently cited in those lawsuits.
According to the New York Times report, part of the problem with laser hair removal procedures is the inconsistent licensing and training requirements from one state to another. This has resulted in a wide range of different levels of training for laser operators who are not doctors.
At least 11 states have no regulations at all on laser hair removal, and Georgia, New York, and Virginia do not classify laser hair removal as a medical procedure.
In addition to accidentally scarring patients, frequently in sensitive areas like bikini lines and upper lips, nonphysician operators are also not trained to tell the difference between a blemish and skin cancer. This can lead to them using the laser procedure to hide important signs of skin cancer, resulting in the cancer reaching advanced stages before it is identified.
The report recommends that patients research a facility before the undergo a laser hair removal procedure there. It also recommends that patients check to see if the facility is owned by a medical doctor and if that doctor will be present during medical procedures. Patients should also ask who will actually perform the procedure and what kind of training they have had, as well as actual experience.
Patients with more natural pigment to their skin appear to be at higher risk of scarring, so they should ask about the appropriateness of the procedure for their skin type and request that a small area be tested first.