Who qualifies to zap hairs?

It's not yet bikini season in most of the country.

But bikini line season is in full swing in thousands of doctor's offices, "med spas" and clinics that heavily — and successfully — promote laser hair removal.

A technology launched a decade ago is now used at least 1.57 million times a year to remove unwanted hair (mostly from the upper lips, chins, legs and bikini lines of women and the backs and chests of men), says the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (www.surgery.org).

That makes laser hair removal second only to Botox injections among non-surgical cosmetic procedures.

Actual numbers are no doubt higher, because the group only surveys plastic surgeons and certain other specialists. And not all laser hair removal facilities are run by such doctors.

Hair Removal

That puts the procedure in the middle of a growing debate: Just who is qualified to oversee and perform services that straddle the line between medicine and beauty treatment?

In some states, laser clinics must have doctors or other medical professionals on site; in others, virtually anyone can operate a laser without medical supervision.

The procedure is usually very safe, but it occasionally causes burns, scarring and other injuries. In one widely reported case, a woman in North Carolina died after an allergic reaction to a numbing cream.

Plastic surgeons and dermatologists say patients should stick with medical specialists, both for safety and results.

"It has to be someone who understands skin and healing," says Barry DiBernardo, a Montclair, N.J., aesthetic plastic surgeon. "The more training, the better."

Always ask these questions:

Providers disagree about what to look for in a laser hair removal facility, especially about whether a doctor must be on site. Before choosing, always ask:

  • How the person performing the treatment was trained and how many clients he or she has treated with the laser to be used on you.
  • What results to expect and how many treatments will be needed, at what price.
  • Whether the facility has a laser appropriate for your skin and hair type.

Common rates

Upper lips: $50-150

Lower legs: $200-400

Bikini line: $100-300

Back: $200-500

Chest: $100-300

Rhonda Narins, a New York dermatologist and past president of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery (www.asds.net), says: "A doctor knows what to do if something goes wrong" and may have a wider variety of lasers for various skin and hair types.

People with dark skin need to be especially careful, she says. They are most likely to get burned because dark pigment absorbs more laser heat (a fact that also makes dark hair on pale skin the easiest to destroy and very light hair the most difficult to remove).

But competitors say that while training, experience and good lasers are crucial, medical degrees are not.

A well-trained "licensed aesthetician" (a beauty technician) who zaps hair all day, every day, is a better bet than a physician who rents a laser once a week, says Kurt Schusterman, chief marketing officer for Sona MedSpa. The company has 35 locations.

Company rules do require a nurse practitioner or registered nurse to be on site at all times, he says.

Consumers may be tempted to choose by price alone. But that can be tricky, says Andrea James, a consumer advocate (also well known as a spokeswoman transsexual issues) whose www.hairfacts.com website offers extensive hair-removal advice.

Some clinics lure consumers with a low one-time price, but then make their money on package deals for more visits than may be needed, she says.

Even with the best equipment and techniques, Narins says, most people require at least three initial treatments to adequately reduce hair; later touch-ups often are needed as well, she says.

Reprinted from: USA Today - March 27, 2006 Author: Kim Painter






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