Laser treatments are a popular and highly effective way of removing unwanted hair from areas of the body, and smoothing out skin imperfections, such as wrinkles, stretch marks, tattoos and acne scars.
Laser beams can destroy hair follicles in a fraction of a second, with far longer lasting results than other hair removal methods. When directed at the skin, electrodes in the laser beam will blast away the top layers, exposing the pink lower layer or dermis. Heating the dermis stimulates the production of collagen, and this in turn causes healthy, blemish-free layers of skin to form.
Since 2010, the legal position in the UK has been that non-surgical cosmetic laser and IPL procedures, including hair removal, skin resurfacing/rejuvenation and tattoo removal, can be carried out by anyone, regardless of their level of training or experience.
This means that the majority of the estimated 10,000 private clinics providing cosmetic laser and IPL treatments in the UK are unregulated, despite the well-known risks that such procedures can involve, including burns, scarring and infections. If you have been injured by a laser or IPL treatment therefore you need to speak to a solicitor, as there is no official industry body to handle complaints.
Critics of the current system advocate the creation of an approved register of cosmetic laser treatment providers. The independent regulator of health and social care in England, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), legally requires cosmetic and laser clinics to register with it if they offer invasive cosmetic procedures such as nose surgery, laser lipolysis (including Smart Lipo) or refractive eye surgery.
However, laser and IPL procedures including laser hair removal and laser skin resurfacing are not regulated by the CQC, and clinics offering these procedures therefore do not need to register with the body. Until the CQC extends its remit or a new register is introduced specifically for cosmetic laser treatment providers, numerous patients will continue to be injured every year due to poorly performed procedures, and sometimes their only option will be to seek legal advice.
Skin patch tests results are a strong indicator of the safety of laser treatments for clients. Even before deregulation in 2010, thousands of ‘adverse events’ were recorded annually by the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS). Laser treatments require a high level of technical accuracy, otherwise powerful laser beams can burn and damage the skin, potentially causing permanent scarring.
A careful medical evaluation of prospective patients is necessary to assess an individual’s skin sensitivity, and determine the correct wavelength and pulse duration of the laser beam. Skin patch and / or hair strand tests should also be carried out where required for the same purpose of assessing a person’s suitability for a laser treatment.
Human errors at laser clinics include technicians setting the laser to the wrong frequency, causing damage when the beams are directed onto the skin. The laser may also be targeted at areas for fractionally too long with similar results. Typically, these types of mistakes will burn the skin, causing blistering and temporary, or in some cases permanent scarring.
The skin may also have an uneven texture or be discoloured in patches following a treatment. Where such injuries affect facial areas a person may be left disfigured, and awareness of this can lead to acute embarrassment, loss of self esteem and psychological problems.
While there are a number of potential causes of accidents at laser clinics that cause injuries to patients, by far the most common is human error on the part of the laser technician. The fact that the cosmetic laser treatment industry in the UK remains unregulated means that practitioners sometimes lack the training and experience to carry out laser procedures competently and safely, resulting in technical mistakes that can lead to second and third degree burns and long-term or permanent scarring.
Such errors include setting the laser device to a frequency that is too high for a patient’s skin or miscalculating the length of time that the laser beam comes into contact with a patient’s skin. In both instances the technician and, by extension, their employer will be responsible for skin damage resulting from the error committed.
The industry’s lack of regulation also means that laser clinics on occasion fail to observe basic safety standards leaving them responsible and legally liable for any resulting injuries. Basic safety measures include maintaining a hygienic premises and providing adequate ventilation, both of which minimise the chance of patients developing infections.
When a laser treatment is being carried out on skin around the eyes, protective goggles must be provided to guard against the risk of ocular damage from beam exposure. There is also the possibility of a laser machine or device being poorly maintained, of inferior quality, or simply defective, in which case liability for an injury will lie with the either the clinic or the manufacturer of the equipment. Risks of this kind emphasise the importance for prospective patients of carefully researching a laser clinic’s facilities and track record prior to engaging its services.
Laser clinics are also responsible for thoroughly evaluating patients prior to carrying out laser procedures. Most importantly, a skin patch test should be carried out by directing the laser at a small area of skin to check for any adverse reaction and to determine the optimum settings (intensity and pulse duration) for a person’s skin and hair type. This should ideally be conducted 24-48 hours before a patient’s first laser treatment session.
A medical consultation and evaluation is also essential to identify any contraindications such as pregnancy, diabetes, epilepsy, and a history of keloid (raised) scarring that make laser procedures unsuitable for certain people. In the vast majority of cases therefore, laser treatment accidents and injuries will be the responsibility of the laser clinic’s operatives and employees, for which the company’s owners will ultimately be held legally liable.
Mrs J booked a series of laser treatment sessions at a local clinic specialising in dermatology and vascular laser therapy to reduce the appearance of visible blood vessels and reddened skin on her cheeks and nose caused by rosacea. She was left with white marks on both cheeks from skin pigmentation changes, and the flushing, particularly on her nose, appeared to get worse in the weeks and months following the laser sessions.
The clinic had not properly assessed the sensitivity of Mrs J’s skin, and the course of laser treatments proved too intense for her skin type leading to discolouration and increased redness on her nose. Mrs J complained to the laser clinic, but was told that side effects of this kind were unavoidable and that the effects should fade within a few months. Due to the cost of the treatments and the damage done to her skin, Mrs J decided to seek legal advice.
After evaluating Mrs J’s case, our firm agreed to take on her claim on a no win no fee basis and issued the clinic with a letter of claim outlining the circumstances. We arranged an appointment with an expert dermatologist who stated that Mrs J’s skin discolouration and worsened rosacea were a direct result of the high intensity of the laser treatments, with the cumulative amount of laser energy sufficient to damage healthy blood vessels and cells under the skin.
The treatments had not been carried out in a reasonably competent manner, and the clinic had therefore breached the duty of care they owed Mrs J as a customer. We were able to win an admission of liability from the clinic’s insurers and negotiate a compensation settlement totalling £3,750 on Mrs J’s behalf.
Laser acne treatments reduce the appearance of scars caused by acne. By heating the dermis layer of skin underneath the acne scars and haemoglobin in the blood, the laser prevents acne scars from regrowing by breaking down the targeted skin tissue without damaging surrounding areas of skin.
Laser acne treatments are very precise, requiring technical accuracy and extensive pre-treatment patient assessment. A botched laser acne treatment can leave a person with disfiguring burn marks, uneven skin texture or discolouration. Accidents often result from technicians lacking the qualifications, skills or experience to perform complex procedures like laser acne treatments safely.
Laser vaginal tightening (also known as vaginal rejuvenation) is used to restore muscle tone to the vagina. Pregnancy and childbirth are the main reasons why women’s vaginal and bladder muscles are stretched and weaken, reducing the amount of friction generated during sexual intercourse and causing incontinence in one in three women.
Laser vaginal rejuvenation therapy utilises fractional carbon dioxide laser technology to tighten the walls of the vaginal tissues and rejuvenate the flexibility of the vaginal canal. When applied, the non-ablative laser pulses thermally heat the inner layers of the vaginal tissues, causing the collagen and elastin in the tissues to contract, and stimulating the production of new collagen.
Laser vaginal tightening is extremely precise, and the heat and intensity of the laser pulses must be accurately calculated and adjusted to prevent internal damage. While there are few contraindications making laser vaginal tightening therapy unsuitable for women, it is not recommended during pregnancy, menstruation, or if an active infection such as herpes exists, and clinics must go through a proper consultation with prospective patients to be able to evaluate them properly and plan the treatment accordingly.
Our female solicitors regularly handle claim on behalf of clients who have been burned or otherwise injured by laser treatments. Because we specialise in laser injury claims, you can rest assured that we will obtain to maximum amount of compensation for you. Contact our specialist team today for free, confidential legal advice.