IPL Laser Treatment Injuries

Child getting his leg checked

The popularity of laser hair removal has increased in recent years, but so has the risk of injury. According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, there were over 1.3 million laser hair removal procedures performed in the United States during 2005, as compared to only 110,000 such procedures in 1998. The number of procedures continues to increase, as do the number of injuries and lawsuits.

Incidents frequently occur due to unlicensed or unqualified personnel, who operate potentially dangerous medical equipment, including lasers and IPL (intense pulsed light) machines. Technicians are supposed to be supervised by licensed physicians during the procedures in order to insure safety. Unfortunately, many of these spas are unsupervised by a licensed physician.

Laser hair removal is accomplished by using a laser or IPL (intense pulsed light) to heat the hair follicles underneath the surface of the skin in order to temporarily prevent re-growth. By applying a certain wavelength of light, tissue surrounding the hair follicle is targeted and heated very quickly, allowing hair follicles to be destroyed. IPL machines can easily cause second degree or third degree burns as well as other types of thermal injury to the skin.

A laser hair removal is a risky procedure. Laser and IPL treatments can and do cause serious burns, skin discoloration and even permanent scarring. Making matters worse, the procedures produce only temporary results. The FDA has recognized that laser hair removal is merely a temporary solution to unwanted hair growth, not permanent. The danger of laser hair removal is often compounded by the incompetence of unqualified personnel who are often hired to perform the procedure; they are usually non-physicians, such as estheticians.

According to the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, a licensed physician should directly supervise any procedure involving lasers or IPL treatments. According to the ASDS, “[t]he supervising physician shall be physically present on site, immediately available, and able to respond promptly to any question or problem that may occur while the procedure is being performed.” Furthermore, “any non-physician personnel employed and designated to perform a procedure by a physician must be under the direct supervision of the physician.”

Many medi-spas in Illinois are operated by estheticians whose responsibilities are legally limited to providing only cosmetic preparations. Estheticians are limited to performing only those procedures dealing with the “stratum corneum,” or the epidermis of the skin, and not the living tissue that lies beneath. In fact, Illinois law prohibits estheticians from operating medical devices, such as lasers or IPL machines:


Recognizing the growth of medi-spas and the growing danger to consumers, Illinois recently enacted additional regulations that require a physician to provide on-site supervision. As of 2009, the use of a light-emitting device, including an intense pulsed light machine, shall only be performed by a physician licensed to practice medicine. Part 1285 Medical Practice Act of 1987, Section 1285.336 (use of lasers). A physician must examine the patient and determine the course of treatment prior to any procedure being performed. Although a physician may delegate the performance of a procedure using a laser or IPL device to a licensed practical nurse, registered professional nurse, or other person, it may be done only with on-site supervision by the physician.

If you are considering a visit to a medi-spa or laser hair removal spa, here are some tips from the ASDS to consider.

If you have been injured as the result of an IPL or laser procedure, it is important to investigate and document your claim as soon as possible. Do not continue to accept additional treatments or burn therapy from the medi-spa. It is important that you seek treatment elsewhere and contact a dermatologist who is qualified to treat your burn injuries. Take photographs, and follow-up photographs, and keep the records related to your procedure. As soon as you are able, write a personal statement detailing your experience before, during and after the treatment. Your statement may serve as important evidence, admissible in court because it is a “recorded recollection.” Once you have gathered the information, contact a knowledgeable and experienced attorney to discuss your case.

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