Laser Hair Removal Side Effects and Risks?

  • 5 years ago

Concerned about side effects from LHR. Can I get permanent damage from the laser? what about hyperpigmentation or scars?

Doctor Answers (20)

Laser Hair Removal Raleigh North Carolina Laws and Medical Board Guidelines

January 26th, 2013

The single biggest "side effect" from laser hair removal is an unexpected financial commitment.  Some laser hair removal center offer pay up front packages with automatic payment for up to two years. Reputable laser hair removal centers know that lasers work differently on different people and pricing should be for individula session. See laser hair removal pricing in the link below. 

THe biggest skin related side effect or risk is pigmentation disorders if the wrong laser or the wrong settings are used. Be sure your laser center has multiple lasers for all skin types and that it is owned and operated by a physician. You should be able to receive a test spot at no change. 

The primary reasons people have issues with laser hair removal is 1) using the wrong laser for their skin type  2) inadequate or inconsistent cooling, 3) Using an IPL rather than a real laser for hair removal  4) incorrect laser settings 5) laser treatment performed in a setting other than a medical office with the physician owner / operator on site. The lasers we use, the Candela Gentlelase for light to medium toned skin , and the Candela GentleYag for dark skinned individuals, are equipped with a DCD, dynamic cooling device. This provides safe and consistent cooling to protect the skin.
The other reason there are issues with pigmentation and scarring is that some lasers are simply not well designed for laser hair removal. IPL is never going to provide the level of hair removal as state-of-the art lasers. IPL and some lasers can be both ineffective and dangerous.
Before selecting a physician's office for laser hair removal, check with your local medical board about updates. The following is the latest from Raleigh, NC:
Laser Hair Removal and Laser Tattoo Removal
The North Carolina Medical Board continues to receive questions regarding laser cosmetic procedures, specifically laser hair removal and laser tattoo removal. The Board offers this document as guidance to physicians and non-physicians who have questions.
This guidance document describes the Board’s position that: (1) the use of a laser for hair removal or tattoo removal constitutes surgery and thus the practice of medicine; (2) FDA-approved laser devices used for hair removal or tattoo removal must be owned by a physician to avoid the unauthorized practice of medicine; (3) any patient treated with an FDA-approved laser device should first be examined by a physician; (4) any person that operates a laser for hair removal or tattoo removal must be a physician or supervised by a physician; and (5) it is a violation of North Carolina law for persons other than licensees of this Board to engage in the practice of medicine. However, notwithstanding these requirements, there are straightforward ways in which physicians can work with non-physicians (and businesses owned by non-physicians) that wish to be involved in laser hair removal or tattoo removal.
The following are some frequently asked questions the Board receives from licensed healthcare practitioners and other individuals regarding laser hair removal or tattoo removal services.
1) Who may operate the laser during a laser hair removal or laser tattoo removal procedure? Response:
A physician may operate lasers that are used for hair and tattoo removal, if the physician is trained and qualified to use that particular laser. And, any individual designated by a physician as having adequate training and experience may operate a medical laser while working under a physician’s supervision. A supervising physician should assure herself/himself that a non- physician is adequately trained, competent and experienced to use a medical laser safely before the physician delegates this task to the non-physician. By delegating the task of using a medical laser to a non-physician, the supervising physician is attesting to the Board and the public that the non-physician is competent to use the medical laser safely.
In addition electrologists who are licensed as laser hair practitioners pursuant to the Electrolysis Practice Act, N.C. Gen. Stat. §88A-11.1, may perform laser hair removal (but not tattoo removal) under the supervision of a physician.
2) What are the supervising physician’s responsibilities when supervising laser hair and tattoo removal procedures?
Response:
The Board expects any physician who provides supervision to::
 Provide adequate oversight of licensed and non-licensed personnel both before and after the procedure is performed.
 Ensure that each patient is examined by a physician, physician assistant or nurse practitioner prior to receiving the first laser hair or tattoo removal treatment and at other times as medically indicated.
 Ensure that the examination includes a history and a focused physical examination.  If prescription medications, such as topical anesthetics, are used, to follow the guidelines
set forth in the Board’s Position Statement titled “Contact with Patients Before
Prescribing.”  If medication is prescribed or dispensed in connection with laser hair or tattoo removal,
assure the patient receives thorough instructions on the safe use or application of the
medication.  Be on site or readily available to the person actually performing the procedure. “Readily
available” will depend on a variety of factors. Those factors include the specific types of procedures and equipment used; the level of training of the persons performing the procedure; the level and type of licensure, if any, of the persons performing the procedure; the use of topical anesthetics; the quality of written protocols for the performance of the procedure; the frequency, quality and type of ongoing education of those performing the procedures; and any other quality assurance measures in place.
 Be able to respond quickly to patient emergencies and questions by those performing the procedures.
3) What are the consequences should a physician fail to provide proper supervision of an individual operating a medical laser or otherwise provide care not in accordance with acceptable and prevailing standards of medical practice when it comes to laser hair or tattoo removal procedures?
Response:
If a physician fails to provide proper supervision of a non-physician operating a laser or that a physician provided substandard care in the provision of laser hair or tattoo removal services, then the Board may invoke its investigative and disciplinary powers. The board investigates all complaints of inappropriate care and allegations of violations of the Medical Practice Act. After an investigation, if the Board has probable cause to believe that a violation of the Medical Practice Act has occurred, the Board may take private or public action, including disciplinary action against a licensee. Based on the facts and circumstances of each case, the Board may issue a private letter of concern, ask the licensee to appear for an investigative interview before the Board, issue a non-disciplinary public letter of concern or take some form of disciplinary action. Disciplinary actions can range from a reprimand up to suspension or revocation of a license. Furthermore, all disciplinary actions may be accompanied by a fine.
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6)
Who may own a practice that provides laser hair removal and/or laser tattoo removal services?
Response:
Because the Board considers laser surgery such as laser hair and tattoo removal to be the practice of medicine, only an individual licensed to practice medicine or perform medical acts, tasks and functions or licensed as a laser hair practitioner may own a practice that provides laser hair and/or tattoo removal services. A physician may own such a practice, and a physician assistant, nurse practitioner, or electrologist licensed as a laser hair practitioner practicing under a physician’s supervision may own such a practice. Furthermore, a combination of physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 55B-14(c) may own a medical practice that provides laser cosmetic services.
May someone other than a physician, physician assistant, nurse practitioner, or electrologist licensed as a laser hair practitioner own a business that provides laser hair or tattoo removal services?
Response:
No. As stated above, the Board considers laser surgery such as laser hair and tattoo removal to be the practice of medicine. Only an individual licensed to practice medicine and to perform medical acts, tasks and functions may own a business that provides medical services. An individual who is sufficiently trained and qualified to operate a medical laser may work at a medical practice as an employee and operate a laser under the supervision of a physician in a manner consistent with the expectations of the Board as set out in the Board’s Laser Surgery Position Statement.
If someone not licensed or approved by the Board already owns and operates a business providing laser hair or tattoo removal, how can the owner modify the business to avoid the unlicensed practice of medicine?
Response:
This process has three components:
 Sale of laser practice: Since only physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners (“licensed practitioners”) are authorized to own a medical laser, the unlicensed non- physician owner of the laser could consider selling the laser to a licensed practitioner who has prescriptive authority. (The unlicensed owner could also sell the entire practice to a licensed practitioner.)
 Role of non-licensed practitioner: What often occurs in this situation is that the unlicensed person enters into a Management Services Contract with a licensed
practitioner who has purchased the medical laser (or the entire practice). The licensed practitioner is permitted to compensate the unlicensed person for management services in the form or managing the office, performing billing services, marketing and advertising the practice or other activities that do not constitute the practice of medicine.
 Compensation arrangements: In addition, the licensed practitioner could compensate the unlicensed person as an employee or contractor actually performing laser hair or tattoo removal under the supervision of a physician (assuming that the non-licensee has adequate training and skills). However, a licensed practitioner would not be permitted to split fees with the unlicensed person on a per-procedure or percentage basis for medical services provided. Instead, the licensed practitioner would need to compensate the unlicensed person based on a salary or hourly wage to avoid improper fee splitting.
7) What are some of the possible consequences should the Board learn that someone is performing laser hair or tattoo removal services without appropriate supervision by a physician?
Response:
Because the Board considers laser hair removal to be surgery and thus the practice of medicine, only a physician or individual appropriately supervised by a physician (including a laser hair practitioner) may use a medical laser to perform hair removal. Therefore, in the Board’s view, an unlicensed and unsupervised person performing laser hair removal would constitute the unlicensed practice of medicine. The unlicensed practice of medicine is a crime in North Carolina pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 90-18(a). Moreover, performing laser hair removal without a license to practice as a laser hair practitioner constitutes a Class I felony pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 88A-4. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 90-14.12 and N.C. Gen Stat. § 88A-22 empower the Medical Board and the State Board of Electrolysis Examiners to seek injunctions in civil Superior Court to enjoin unlicensed individuals from practicing medicine or performing laser hair removal. Furthermore, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 90-18 authorizes the Medical Board to report allegations of unlicensed practice to the local district attorney where the violation is alleged to have occurred for possible investigation and prosecution.
Because the Board also considers laser tattoo removal to be surgery and thus the practice of medicine, only an individual licensed to practice medicine or a person supervised by a physician may use a medical laser to perform tattoo removal.
Therefore, in the Board’s view, an unlicensed and unsupervised person performing laser tattoo removal would constitute the unlicensed practice of medicine as described above with regard to laser hair removal.
If you have additional questions, please feel free to call the North Carolina Medical Board at (919) 326-1100 or the North Carolina Board of Electrolysis Examiners at 336-856-1010.

Michael Law, MD

Michael Law, MD
Raleigh-Durham Plastic Surgeon
4.5 out of 5 stars 42 reviews

Laser hair removal side effects

February 14th, 2011

In the hands of the right physician using the appropriate device set at the correct settings, side effects from laser hair removal present a very minimal risk.  However, if the settings are incorrect any of the following may occur:  blistering, darkening of the skin, erosions on the lip, development of cold sores, redness and persistent pain.  Most of these are temporary and can be avoided by proper preparation of the treated area prior to the procedure being performed.

Corey L. Hartman, MD

Corey L. Hartman, MD
Birmingham Dermatologic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 6 reviews

Risks of Laser Hair Removal

December 23rd, 2010

There are many risks to any kind of therapy. laser hair removal is no different and the risks although most unlikely include: 1) skin getting darker or lighter than the surrounding skin 2) blistering 3) scarring 4) bringing out a viral infection- like herpes simplex 5) damaging a tattoo in the area 6) even causing more hair to grow - in very rare cases 7) and the list goes on. A doctor proficient in lasers - although may be initially higher- will be able to minimize and avoid most of the pitfalls by taking many precautions.

Joshua L. Fox, MD

Joshua L. Fox, MD
Long Island Dermatologic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 10 reviews


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Laser Hair Removal Risks

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Rare risks (some of which are permanent):

burns
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scars

Side effects:
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The risks are very rare. No sun or antibiotics before your treatment if all protocols are followed the risk is very low.

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You can get permanent damage from any laser performed by anyone. Always to somewhere with experience and with a board certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon on staff. There will be very minimal risk of damage in skilled hands. 

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July 18th, 2013

Laser hair removal, for the most part, is safe as long as the correct settings are used and if the patient follows instructions. Some common temporary side effects are usually swelling around the hair follicle and redness that usually subsides within hours. Other risks include skin discoloration (can be temporary or permanent), blistering, and scarring that is associated with burns (which should be rare). Make sure to let your provider know of any medications (oral and topical) that you are taking because some medications can make you photosensitive, and try to avoid sun exposure which can contribute to burns with laser hair removal. Laser hair removal usually feels like a warm rubberband snap on your skin. If it is excessively painful, let your provider know. An experienced laser operator will usually be able to assess skin reaction and skin type in order to use the correct laser settings.

Steven H. Williams, MD

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It is always important research the credentials and experience of the laser technician prior to any treatment to reduce the likelihood of complications.  Possible side effects can include burning, scarring, hyperpigmentation (darkening of the skin), hypopigmentation (lightening of the skin), or paradoxical hair growth which results in darker and thicker hair.  These side effects are unlikely when laser hair removal treatments are performed or supervised by a board certified facial plastic surgeon, board certified plastic surgeon, dermatologist.  (It is a good idea to research the laws in your state to determine who is legally allowed to perform this treatment).  After each session, your skin should be evaluated to determine if the settings should be increased or decreased.  If the settings are too high, it could cause burning, hyperpigmentation, or scarring.  If they are too low, you may not get an adequate result.  I hope this helps!

Paul L. Leong, MD, FACS

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April 24th, 2013

Laser hair removal for the face and body has advanced throughout the years.  Anytime there is a laser on your skin, there are risks involved.  The laser uses heat to paralyze the hair follicle from regrowth.  Each visit the lasers heat may be turned higher to target smaller follicles.  As long as the technician is well trained with years of experience the patient should do just fine.  The main risk is burning the skin.  This may happen if the patient has been exposed to sun exposure, tanning beds, or artificial spray tanning.  Sun exposure may activate melanocytes in the skin and bring them to the surface.  The eye is unable to see the pigment changes and may cause burning from the laser.  If the laser is turned up to high, this also may cause some burning, please communicate with your technician about your comfort.  It is important for your technician to discuss all the dos and don'ts with the patient before performing this procedure.  Never hesitate to ask many questions during your consultation. Please make sure you are seen by an expert with years of experience with a doctor on site.  There are many medical spas popping up all around the country, so make sure you are being treated with an expert.

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Hyperpigmentation is a risk with laser hair removal, and that can last 9-12 months. This is an extremely low risk, however, and if it occurs it can be treated by a skin lightening cream. We recommend Pigment Regulator by SkinCeuticals. My wife has been doing laser hair removal for 17 years, and has never seen permanent damage or scars from laser hair removal.

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These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.

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