The application of light-based cosmetic treatments provides a range of benefits to consumers, but the delivery of these services comes with varying degrees of risk depending on the procedure performed. 

Laser and Intense Pulse Light (IPL) sources are devices used for a range of cosmetic purposes including:

  • removing hair, tattoos, birthmarks, various skin lesions, acne and acne scaring
  • reducing the visibility of blood vessels and skin pigmentation 
  • rejuvenating the skin 
  • reducing the appearance of fat and cellulite. 

Background 

Lasers and IPL devices used for cosmetic purposes can cause serious health effects such as burns, scarring and eye damage. 

A wide range of operators provide services with lasers and IPLs. Many are qualified professionals who are trained in the use of lasers and IPLs for cosmetic purposes, however, services are also provided by operators with limited or no training. 

These devices are also easily available for purchase on the internet, sometimes at low cost. The ease of accessibility of these devices has resulted in a situation where consumers can receive cosmetic treatments using IPLs and lasers from operators who:

  1. do not have a proper understanding of the risks involved in applying the treatment, and 
  2. who are using equipment that may be sub-standard or poorly maintained.

Media reports have highlighted injuries resulting from IPLs and laser treatments that have gone wrong. There have been several reported instances of injuries received by consumers. The consequences of these incorrect treatments can range from minor burns to severe injuries requiring follow-up medical treatments leading to permanent scarring in the affected areas. Treatments conducted near the eyes could also lead to eye injuries and vision impairment. Of particular concern have been cases where cosmetic treatments have been performed inappropriately to treat the symptoms of malignant skin conditions including melanoma, effectively masking or removing these symptoms. This has led to several instances of late or missed diagnosis of serious underlying health problems.

The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) has developed advice for consumers seeking treatments and advice for treatment providers delivering these services.  

Advice for treatment providers

The advice for treatment providers contains detailed information in safely applying laser, IPL devices and light-emitting diode (LED) phototherapy, for non-surgical cosmetic outcomes. The advice covers a wide range of safety aspects including qualifications and training, client assessment, relevant standards and hazard management. This advice aims to provide guidance for achieving good practice in the delivery of light-based cosmetic treatments. 

Infection prevention and control for laser and IPL

Treatment providers are responsible for people’s safety. Infection prevention and control is important.

The department has published the Infection prevention and control guidelines for hair, beauty, tattooing and skin penetration industries (PDF) to help with compliance with the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 (the Act) and the Public Health and Wellbeing Regulations 2009.

Infection prevention and control requirements for laser and IPLs (cosmetic procedures and tattoo removal) can be found in Part C of the guidelines.

Advice for consumers 

The advice for consumers aims to promote risk awareness and provides simple strategies for minimising the potential harm when undergoing treatments with lasers, IPLs or LED phototherapy. The purpose of this advice is to assist consumers in making informed decisions as to which service providers they choose for their treatment.

Complaints

Consumers can report complaints regarding unsatisfactory treatment to the Victorian Health Complaints Commissioner