By Jayson Dupre
Though cosmetic laser procedures are widely practiced in today's medical spas, there are significant safety concerns that require more attention and oversight of these techniques at the regulatory level.
With the exception of minimal training offered by laser manufacturers, the laser industry generally operates without government regulation or oversight. As a result, incorrect use of cosmetic lasers has resulted in patient injury, including severe scarring and burning - and has demonstrated the need for standardized, industry-wide regulations to address patient safety concerns, increase consumer confidence, and facilitate the continued growth of the $8 billion medical-aesthetics industry.
In lieu of federal action, a few states have passed regulations to address the mounting concerns.
Arizona went first, requiring in 2005 that a cosmetic-laser technician must complete 40 hours of instructional training, 24 hours of clinical training in laser-hair removal, and 24 hours of clinical training in other light-based treatments. In addition, all medical directors and health professionals overseeing these procedures must also have a minimum of 24 hours of laser training.
In 2010, Texas followed, passing legislation that requires 40 hours of training at a state-approved facility, and the successful completion of 100 cosmetic-laser procedures before receiving certification.
Other states have taken a less rigorous approach.
In Pennsylvania, though no formal set of guidelines governing the use of cosmetic lasers exists, the state medical board is considering two draft regulations, both of which would require physicians to oversee cosmetic-laser procedures performed by licensed aestheticians.
However, simply mandating physician supervision may actually compromise the ability of many practices to function without necessarily improving patient safety. It's important to note that not all physicians are qualified to oversee and designate the use of cosmetic lasers by virtue of their medical degree and license.
Doctors, nurses, aestheticians, cosmetologists, and laser technicians all perform laser-hair removal and other light-based cosmetic procedures - including tattoo removal, acne-scar reduction, and wrinkle and stretch-mark reduction - none of which are taught in medical school, or as part of an aesthetics or cosmetology course.
Therefore, to adequately address patient safety concerns, as in Texas and Arizona, it is vital that proper education and training regarding the use of cosmetic lasers be required for anyone operating a laser in Pennsylvania, regardless of professional background or license. It's the only way to guarantee that qualified professionals are performing these procedures, and the only way to effectively safeguard patients against harmful mistakes that can be painful and permanent.