New advice from radiation safety authority puts cosmetic procedures under spotlight

Australia’s radiation safety authority has issued updated advice for practitioners and consumers on the safe use of radiation in light-based cosmetic treatments used to reduce hair, skin blemishes or tattoos.

Light-based treatments are a group of procedures using lasers, intense pulse light devices (IPL) or high-powered light emitting diode (LED) phototherapy. 

The risks of non-ionising radiation used in these cosmetic procedures is an ongoing focus for the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), given the potential risks to clients and treatment providers and the lack of safety laws and regulation. 

“Something we added to this advice is for consumers to make sure their provider correctly classifies the colour of their skin,” ARPANSA Associate Professor Ken Karipidis says. 

This is because most cases of burns in laser hair removal occur due to incorrect classification of skin type, the ARPANSA says in a statement. 

The guidelines advise, “if you have dark skin you are at higher risk for adverse outcomes with laser and IPL. Those with darker skin should consider having treatment in a medically supervised clinic or at a minimum, confirm with the operator that they have experience with darker skin and are using the correct 1064nm wavelength.”

“If you feel that the treatment is causing you any unexpected pain or discomfort, ask the treatment provider to stop the treatment immediately, and consult a medical professional.” 

The Fitzpatrick Skin phototype is a commonly used skin type classification for determining how a person’s skin will respond to light-based treatments.

In most cases, the light source (laser, IPL or LED) targets and then destroys or damages skin pigments called ‘chromophores’, which give hair and skin their distinctive colour. The body then repairs the damage.

When incorrectly applied, these treatments can cause unintended injury to a skin or eyes (if done without eye protection).

ARPANSA has also issued new advice for cosmetic treatment professionals covering qualifications and training, information provided to clients, equipment and personal protective equipment, and what to do if an injury occurs. 

“For providers we have also included further recommendations, including taking extra care with procedures near the eye and classifying skin correctly, to make sure they are keeping consumers safe.” 

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