Laser Hair Removal: Assessing the Risks

woman using tablet in cafe

Laser hair removal (LHR) is one of the fastest-growing noninvasive cosmetic procedures today. While the mounting number of providers serves as a testament to the effectiveness and popularity of the procedure, that shouldn’t imply that each practitioner offers the same level of patient safety. A recent study published in JAMA Dermatology found a 41.5 percent increase in the number of injuries resulting from cutaneous laser surgery – including LHR – performed by uncertified operators. With such a large and growing number of cases, how can patients assess the risks of LHR and best protect themselves from significant injury?

Burns, Blisters, and Scarring

In the care of a physician-supervised medical spa with a certified laser technician, patients can rest assured that safety is a priority. Not only do trained laser specialists deliver a more effective outcome, but they do so in a safe and professional environment in which risk is minimal.

Unfortunately, not all of those offering LHR are adequately capable or licensed to perform this procedure. In such cases, the danger of serious side effects such as burns, blisters, and even permanent scarring is greatly increased. Unskilled, unlicensed laser operators can put patients at increased risk for dangerous burns—some as severe as third degree—that can leave permanent and disfiguring scars on the face or body. In addition to these hazards, unskilled operators are more likely to leave patients with pigmentation irregularities due to imprecise selection of the proper laser and setting for each patient’s unique needs.

Skilled operators, on the other hand, know how to assess each patient’s skin tone in order to choose the proper size and strength of laser to attack only the hair follicle without damaging surrounding subcutaneous structures or triggering pigmentation problems.

While there are a number of horror stories about patients whose lives and bodies were permanently scarred by irresponsible operators, it’s important to remember that much of the risk is sensationalized. Simply being judicious in your search for a qualified LHR provider will go a long way toward reducing any serious risks.

Milder Side Effects

To stay safe, patients should avoid the temptation to think of LHR as an “anyone can do this” type of procedure. With the dubious safety and efficacy of at-home kits and the abundance of unskilled operators in a variety of salon and spa settings, it’s easy to find yourself in a risky hair removal situation. When under the care of an experienced professional in a medical-grade environment, however, the risk of serious side effects is greatly diminished.

Depending on skin tone and sensitivity, most patients should experience only slight discomfort that’s equated to a rubber band snap on the skin as the laser does its work. The use of cold packs and sophisticated dynamic laser cooling systems can minimize any temporary discomfort during the procedure, and slight temporary redness or swelling around hair follicles should be the only likely side effects.

Choosing a Provider to Minimize Risks

There are risks to any medical procedure, even noninvasive and nonsurgical treatments such as LHR. The key is for patients to remember that this is a medical treatment, not a just a beauty regimen. This shift in mindset can help lend your search for a skilled laser operator a sense of serious purpose. Choosing a well-trained, experienced, and licensed laser technician in a physician-supervised environment is the first step toward achieving safe, beautiful and pain-free laser hair removal results.