Two leading doctors have called for tighter regulation of the beauty industry in the ACT to prevent non-medical practitioners from performing damaging laser treatments.
The push comes as multiple women alleged to The Canberra Times that they were misled about expected pain and their faces were scarred, spotted or infected, after a Canberra beauty therapist gave them laser treatments intended to remove wrinkles or marks.
Dr Sally Shaw, a founding member of the Australasian College of Skin Cancer Medicine and medical director of Peninsula Skin Cancer Centre, said she had seen several women whose skin was damaged after being treated by beauty therapist and director of Lumps & Bumps clinic, Sarah England.
The Lumps & Bumps Clinic opened in Canberra in 2012. After temporarily relocating to Melbourne it returned to the capital so Ms England could treat existing patients from her Bonner home while planning to open a new clinic in Canberra.
The clinic created a media storm in May when former client Niki Richardson posted a now-viral post with a photo of her bloody face after undergoing the procedure by Ms England in Melbourne, to inform people of her "10-week nightmare".
One 27-year-old woman, who asked not to be named, said she was traumatised after Ms England gave her ineffective numbing cream followed by an erbium laser resurfacing treatment that left her bleeding and in excruciating pain, despite being told it would only feel like "a cool vibration".
"When the laser hit my skin I was shaking. It was the most torturous thing I've had to sit through for 45 minutes," the blonde woman said.
She said swelling began after a few days and six weeks later her temple was scarred while her cheeks were pink and sore.
Dr Shaw believed Ms England was not qualified to provide adequate after care or pain relief.
"These patients have described the most horrific pain they have ever experienced and because it is very deep into the skin you should have a local anaesthetic for these treatments," Dr Shaw said.
"I've seen some of her past clients who are beside themselves, still having sensory pain weeks later and they have scarring months after their treatment when their skin should feel rejuvenated after a week.
"The law doesn't seem to have any restrictions here."
Spokeswoman for Cosmetic Physicians Society of Australasia Dr Mary Dingley was also concerned that while only doctors could use a laser in Western Australia and licences were required in Queensland and Tasmania, almost anyone could own and operate one in other states and territories, including the ACT.
"For something as invasive as laser resurfacing, one would hope that the sheer pain factor would stop a non-medical practitioner from performing it."
Dr Dingley did not comment on specific practitioners but said photos of the blonde woman appeared to show post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, which is skin discolouration that happens when cells that normally produce brown pigment evenly produce too much melanin. It was one of many risks with erbium laser resurfacing that Dr Dingley said were amplified if not performed by a doctor, and had potential to cause permanent damage.
Another Lumps & Bumps client, Maureen Murray, said she developed an infection that later scarred from the same treatment administered by Ms England which she sought to reduce wrinkles.
"Afterwards she said I'd have some pink but it was so atrocious and painful that I couldn't go anywhere or sleep properly for two weeks," Ms Murray said.
"I went to a doctor who said I had a serious infection and gave me antibiotics."
In May, NSW Health warned of risks of attracting blood-borne viruses from unregulated cosmetic treatments.
But Ms England said all clients received a written and verbal warning about pain, bleeding and possible recovery of several months. She said she urged them to consult with a doctor before and after undergoing aggressive treatments.
"The healing process is determined by many factors, skin condition, age, patients' health, adhering to the post care instructions, limited sun exposure," she said.
"Failing to follow the advised post care instructions can lead to prolonged healing in the way of yellow discharge, scabbing, pain, swelling and redness."
She stressed the treatments she offered did not need local anaesthetic and said while complications such as post inflammatory hyperpigmentation would "usually" go away on their own, she offered clients an another type of laser treatment free of charge to clear it.
As well as outlining a number of skin and laser qualifications she held, including from the Australian Institute of Laser Therapy and the University of Queensland, Ms England said she had a large client base of satisfied customers.
An ACT Health spokesperson said that laser operators in Canberra were only regulated for infection control and confirmed qualifications and training were not assessed.
Since January 2015, the ACT Government agency Access Canberra received 21 inquiries about beauty services, including for alleged incompetence and causing injury.
Dr Dingley said she was working with the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency to introduce urgent national standards for the industry.
"But unfortunately it may take years to change," she said.
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