Radiation safety agency gathering evidence on cosmetic laser treatments

Australia’s radiation safety agency is looking into the risks of widely used cosmetic laser and intense pulsed light treatments, which could lead to national industry regulation.

Cosmos recently reported concerns about ultraviolet nail polish drying devices that researchers say can lead to cancer-causing mutations in human cells, although the safety authority says for most people the doses are too small. 

Associate Professor Ken Karipidis, the assistant director of health impact assessment at the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency, told Cosmos cosmetic procedures which use these types of ‘non-ionising’ radiation and intense pulsed lights (IPL) are regulated at the state and territory level.

Only Tasmania, Queensland and Western Australia have regulatory controls. Other states, like Victoria and New South Wales, have no regulation at all. 

“In Victoria, for example, anyone can open up one of these laser clinics tomorrow, without any training, without any qualifications, and start using these treatments on people,” Karipidis says.

He says there is no national approach to regulation of devices or services that use non-ionising radiation for cosmetic purposes, except for the ban on solariums.  

And while the Therapeutic Goods Administration regulates medical devices it doesn’t oversee UV, laser and IPL devices used for cosmetic treatments. 

An ARPANSA review  in 2022 highlighted the need to develop uniform training requirements for operators to provide these services and use these devices.  

Laser and IPL are used across a wide range of cosmetic procedures, including hair removal, skin rejuvenation, wrinkles, and tattoo removal.

Also in Cosmos: Concerns about UV lamps in cosmetic laser industry

The risks from these procedures range from redness to burning or scarring. 

Karipidis says while there’s been a number of media stories and calls for regulation, evidence and data about the risks and injury rates are lacking.

That data is lacking internationally too, with many studies sponsored by industry, including manufacturers of the devices, he says.

To address these data gaps, ARPANSA is teaming up with Monash University to work with PhD researcher Zoe Thomas, to gather data and evidence on the risks of cosmetic devices and procedures.

Thomas will be looking at media, legal and healthcare data to understand the risk from cosmetic radiation procedures, like laser hair removal and IPL skin rejuvenation. 

“Consumers assume that because something is available it’s safe – but that’s not always the case,” Thomas says.  

The research will initially gather data on health impacts from hospital emergency admissions, General Practitioners and primary health care. A second phase will look at legal cases, such as where people having treatments have had a bad outcome, and take legal action (such as suing a clinic). Third, Thomas will talk to cosmetic clinics.

Karipidis will be co-supervising the project.

ARPANSA is hoping the information gathered will inform recommendations on whether and how states and territories should regulate the cosmetics industry.

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