(Revised and Updated in February 2020.) As we treat over 1000 people a month at our Leeds clinic, we increasingly see people coming in to see us who have suffered burns as a result of inexpert practitioners or cheap equipment elsewhere.
Following on from our popular article advising how to choose a good laser hair removal clinic, we advise you on what to do next if you’ve just had a bad experience with your laser treatment.
This is not a subject that most people want to talk about. Unfortunately, it is a very common experience when unqualified, inexperienced practitioners using cheap or replica lasers and IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) machines carry out treatments such as laser/IPL hair removal.
The selection of an experienced and qualified laser practitioner is detailed more under “Operators” in our A-Z of Laser Hair Removal.
In short, if you are offered laser or IPL hair removal treatments without having a series of test patches carried out in advance, do not go ahead with treatment – look at other providers.
Preparing for treatment
Melanin is the dark pigment in your hair. For laser hair removal to be successful, the laser light needs to be absorbed by the melanin for the hair follicle to be destroyed. All skin reacts differently and therefore, at your consultation, it is essential to let the laser practitioner know if you have used sunbeds, or you have a Sun tan, or have any skincare products on your skin before any test patches are carried out.
Skincare products include moisturisers and cosmetics, but also things you might not consider such as fake tan and even coconut oil.
In a perfect world, your treatment would work like this:
- You would have no tan.
- You would attend a consultation appointment where your test patches would be carried out using multiple different laser settings.
- The laser practitioner would assess the tissue response on each of those test patches, and you would then wait for a period of at least two days.
- If no adverse reaction had occurred after those days, the laser practitioner would then be able to safely carry out the first full treatment.
Some of the questions an experienced laser practitioner will ask you every time are:
- Have you been on a sunbed?
- Have you got a tan since your last treatment?
- Do you have any skincare products or makeup on your skin?
- Are you pregnant or breastfeeding?
- Have you had any changes in medication, or new allergies?
This is because exposure to sunbeds or the Sun itself produces an increased level of melanin in the skin. This is what the laser light targets. Increased melanin (pigment) means more laser light will be absorbed into your skin. Likewise, having moisturiser also will lead to more energy being absorbed by your skin and converted to heat.
In both cases, this can increase the risk of a burn.
How should my skin react to laser treatment?
It is normal for skin to feel hot during laser and IPL treatments but you should expect the skin to cool down quickly. The laser practitioner can give you an idea of how long you should expect the skin to feel hot. For example, if you are having a laser hair removal treatment, your skin should cool down almost immediately.
On modern laser equipment – 2018 and newer – you would briefly feel some heat and nothing more. On older laser equipment, you would feel something like a hot rubber band snap, again without any lingering pain or heat.
How do I tell if I’ve been burned?
If it feels extremely hot and is not cooling down, you should tell your practitioner as they are carrying out the treatment. This will allow the practitioner to adjust the treatment setting. They can also take immediate action to cool the skin and possibly even prevent a burn or reduce its severity.
If you suspect that you have been burned, be sure to discuss it with your laser practitioner before you leave the clinic. Make sure you understand what to expect and how to treat your skin at home. Then make an appointment for a post-treatment follow-up and never hesitate to call the clinic if you have any questions or concerns.
Usually, you will know almost immediately if you have a burn. In some cases, however, the skin may not feel hot until you get home. As soon as you suspect a burn, you should telephone and speak to the laser practitioner that carried out the treatment.
If you are not satisfied or confident with the post-treatment care, ask to speak to the Medical Director. (Hopefully the clinic has a Medical Director who is a doctor.) You should firstly attempt to work with the staff at the clinic where the laser treatment was provided. Then, if you are not satisfied level of care, seek a second opinion.
You should get professional treatment as soon as possible. The information provided here or anywhere else on the internet cannot replace personal treatment by experienced skin professionals.
I have a burn, what do I do?
The recommended treatment for burns will depend on the degree of the burn.
In most cases, the burn from an aesthetic laser or IPL is a first degree burn. A second degree burn is unlikely but can also occur from laser/IPL treatment. Third degree burns are extremely rare.
In most cases it is not necessary to make a trip to A&E. In rare cases, you may need some medical attention. You may want to go to your local Accident & Emergency or Minor Injuries unit if:
- You suspect that you have been burned severely
- If you find the pain intolerable.
- If the burn covers a large portion of the body.
Be sure to let the laser practitioner know as soon as possible. They should be aware so that they can review the treatment settings and assess whether there is a problem with the equipment. They should ask you to return to the clinic as soon as possible so that they can give you post-treatment instructions.
You may also be scheduled to see the doctor if one is attached to the clinic, or a clinic nurse if necessary. It is up to the patient to discuss any problems with the clinic and to follow post-treatment advice.
The specific first aid treatment will depend on the type of burn. This guide should not be used in place of seeking your own medical advice.
- Cool the skin as quickly as possible – within the first few hours. This is critical!
- While driving home after the treatment, aim the air conditioner toward the treated area if possible.
- When you get home, soak a washcloth in a bowl of ice water, ring out the excess water and apply the cold wash cloth to the treated area. Switch out the cold cloths every couple minutes. When you feel the wash cloth become warm, it is time to switch it out.
- Do not apply ice directly onto the skin, and do not leave cold packs on the skin for an extended period of time. On for ten minutes, off for ten minutes.
- Do not put on an occlusive or greasy ointment such as Aquaphor or Vaseline, unless instructed by your laser practitioner or doctor, as it can trap in the heat. After the skin has had time to cool, and the skin begins to heal you may then be instructed to use an ointment to protect the skin.
- Do not open or pop blisters. Opening the blisters will make the area more vulnerable to infection.
- It may be recommended to loosely wrap the area in gauze.
- You can apply a topical antibiotic cream to the burn if directed by a prescribing doctor or nurse.
- Watch the skin for signs of infection.
After the burns have healed
Once the burns have healed, the next priority is to prevent scarring.
The most important thing you can do is protect the area from further injury. This includes avoiding Sun exposure. Be sure to use a good quality Sun protection product with SPF 30 or higher.
Topical Serums that contain Vitamin C, and products with growth factors, can aid in collagen production. This may improve skin healing and reduce inflammation.
If the burn marks are old you may need a clinical treatment such as a medium depth chemical peel to treat the scars.
Some notes on choosing a safe clinic
We know that not everyone reading this article has been burned. You may be researching the safety of laser treatments before deciding whether to begin a course of treatment. You may be deciding which clinic to go to in your location.
In a medical setting, laser treatments are incredibly safe and effective. In the UK, though, laser treatment is unregulated. You need to choose your provider carefully.
Fortunately, if you know the right questions to ask, it’s straightforward to find a good clinic.
- Are they CQC registered? This is the UK’s inspector of healthcare providers. A good recent CQC inspection tells you a lot about how the clinic operates behind the scenes.
- What medical structures are in place? Is the clinic run by qualified medics? Having the expertise of doctors and surgeons immediately available to your laser practitioner can be a good sign.
- What qualifications and training does your laser practitioner have? There is no statutory training for laser use, but a good practitioner will have had full training and take part in ongoing CPD.
- What laser equipment is in use? High quality laser equipment is vastly expensive and cheap alternatives do not regulate temperature as effectively. Some cheaper lasers are nearly as risky and ineffective as IPL machines. Ask for the manufacturer, the year of purchase and when it was last serviced.
- Do they have insurance? You should be able to find out details of a clinic’s insurance on request. If they don’t have a policy to protect their patients, why not?
- Do they have happy patients? Reviews are subjective – they don’t replace the need for a well run medical clinic. Start by making sure a clinic ticks all of the boxes above. If it also has lots of five star reviews online, you can feel even more confident about booking your first appointment.
If you’d like more information…
…or would like some advice from a fully trained laser practitioner, you can always call our Leeds clinic on 01943 882010, email us at email@example.com or fill in the Call Me Back box on this page.
We provide advanced laser hair removal treatments using industry-leading 2020 model Class 4 medical grade lasers. We get fantastic results that our patients are delighted with.