Be careful to avoid ‘fly-by-night’ firms when choosing laser therapy

2014-02-04 00:00

WHEN you’re working hard to keep trim and are faced with a bulging waistline and wrinkled, sagging skin it may be tempting to turn to services that promise an “easy” solution, such as laser therapy.

But with no regulations controlling who can buy or operate potentially dangerous, albeit legally licensed, laser therapy machines, consumers have been warned to do their homework and beware of fly-by-night operators.

SA Association of Health and Skincare Professionals (SAAHSP) education co-ordinator Joelette Theron said there are no regulations determining who is allowed to buy and operate a laser machine.

“These treatments have a huge demand. The most popular is hair removal and weight loss as every woman would like to improve her appearance. In recent times men are also more conscious and are coming for these treatments,” Theron said.

But Theron warned that incorrect use could result in not-so-pretty burns, scarring, blemishes and hyper-pigmentation.

“The problem lies with ‘fly-by-night’ companies. We have seen it happen where companies pop up from nowhere and import machines from the East and basically operate out of their garage,” Theron said. “This poses a big problem. The companies selling these machines do not have proper training and do not know how to operate their own devices.”

“The SAAHSP can only urge suppliers [of lasers] to ensure that they request proof of qualification from the buyer and proof that a qualified therapist would perform the treatments,” Theron said.

Theron said she would like to see the government appoint a regulatory body to ensure only qualified people entered the field.

Another problem was that there are presently no regulations determining a minimum qualification for laser therapists with the responsibility to train falling on the suppliers of machines.

However, Theron said the association recommended a two-year qualification in health and skincare or a three-year qualification in somatology.

Department of Health, Radiation Control deputy director Leon du Toit said lasers intended for use on the body were considered medical lasers and were regulated on two levels under the Hazardous Substances Act of 1973.

He said importers had to provide documentary evidence of the safety of certain classes of lasers for surgical and cosmetic use that they wanted to import, while therapists had to apply for a license.

However, he said no qualifications were needed for the license to be granted, although the user agreed to abide by the safety conditions of the license.

“If you don’t have a license then you are operating illegally and we could come around and seize your lasers,” Du Toit said.

However, Hightech Lasers managing director Wicus Olivier, who has been in the industry for 40 years, and imports European Union-compliant (CE) laser machines, said a flood of cheap, grey Chinese imports coupled with untrained therapists had created a “disaster” in the industry.

“Every day we get complaints that they are burning patients — these people are not trained. There are a lot of these things happening,” Olivier said.

“I take that responsibility to train because how do you sell that instrument which is dangerous? The department [of health] needs to do their duty in checking up. We have many salons that import these on the grey market and they are never serviced,” Olivier said.

Health Professions Council of SA (HPSCA) chief operating officer Advocate Tshepo Boikanyo said the council only had jurisdiction over registered healthcare practitioners and had received “minimal” complaints regarding laser therapy.

“Complaints related to the practitioner not discussing the treatment plan, failing to keep clinical records, allowing beauty therapists to operate the equipment without supervision and failing to obtain proper clinical history of the patient,” Boikanyo said.

He added that the council’s Medical and Dental Professions Board was rewriting its ethical rule to provide clear guidance to doctors on what constitutes appropriate education, credentials and sufficient experience to perform laser therapy treatments. Boikanyo urged consumers to consult a specialist for treatments that have permanent effects. “Only go to practitioners who are adequately trained and qualified with the necessary experience to carry out a procedure.

Currently reversible treatments such as weight loss, hair removal, botox, fillers may be performed by a general practitioner. The HPCSA is urging the public to ensure they go to practitioners who have the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to carry out a procedure.” Consumers can access the HPCSA’s online register at to check a practitioner’s registration or call 012 338 9301.

Send your consumer complaints to

Complete the following checklist before going for laser therapy.

• Find out how long the therapist has been in business;

• Do your research online regarding the treatment and

potential risks;

• Ask the therapist what type of machine will be used and whether it is regularly serviced;

• Ask the therapist about clinical studies regarding the

safety and efficacy of the machine;

• Ask to see a certificate as proof of the therapist’s training and check the credentials of the training provider, and;

• Make sure the therapist does a proper analysis of your health and skin before starting treatment.

Source: MD of Hightech Lasers/ SA Association of Health and Skincare Professionals, Wicus Olivier.

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