Experts raise alarm on cosmetic NIR procedures

Cosmetic dermatology

By Geir O'Rourke

29 Mar 2023

Greater awareness is needed on the dangers associated with cosmetic procedures involving non-ionising radiation given the major gaps in regulation around Australia, scientists are warning.

They say that while cosmetic NIR procedures for things like epilation, skin rejuvenation and tattoo removal are marketed as low-risk, the levels of radiation involved almost always guarantee high exposure.

“Consequently there is always a risk of adverse health effects from these procedures, which may be temporary or longer lasting,” say the authors of a recent paper in Public Health Research & Practice (link here).

They point out that many such procedures can be complex, requiring skill, experience and comprehensive aftercare.

Despite this, in Australia they are frequently performed by providers without medical training such as beauty therapists or dermal therapists.

In addition, devices are also available in Australia allowing cosmetic NIR procedures to be performed by patients outside in their own home, say the authors, led by Associate Professor Ken Karapitis of the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA).

“The more common and less serious adverse effects include pain, temporary erythema, swelling and changes in pigmentation,” they write.

“More severe adverse effects, which are less common but can be longer lasting, include burns, blisters, scarring, persisting erythema, altered pigmentation and eye damage.”

“Many of the severe adverse effects may be preventable with good application technique, however, gaps in the oversight of industry practice may contribute to the occurrence of preventable injuries.”

Against this backdrop, the regulation of cosmetic devices using NIR is “limited and inconsistent” around the country, according to the authors, who point out that current controls only cover optical devices in three jurisdictions: Tasmania, Queensland and Western Australia.

“These regulations specifically focus on qualifications of providers, compliance with standards of devices and the physical practice environment,” they write.

“There are no regulations that deal with devices that use electromagnetic fields or ultrasound in commercial settings and there is no oversight for home-use devices for any modality.”

The authors concluded by arguing for research on injuries due to NIR cosmetic treatment to be made a priority, including data on complaints from consumers.

This should inform authorities in deciding what additional regulation was required, they said.

“Further to the need for more research, public awareness should be expanded on the potential risks related to NIR, both through government and industry stakeholders,” the authors added.

“Information and advice should cover all NIR cosmetic applications, with a strong focus on qualifications and training available to deliver cosmetic procedures and injury reporting.”

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