A Vancouver woman who was left scarred from laser hair removal is urging others to do their research before committing to the procedure, which is unregulated in B.C.
Danielle Nadeau spent $7,000 to have all of the hair on her legs and groin area removed at Ideal Image, a medical spa in the South Granville neighbourhood that offers services like fillers and laser hair removal.
During her eighth session on June 19, Nadeau said the pain was much more intense than what she had experienced previously.
"It was to the point where I was biting my fist," said Nadeau, 28.
Nadeau said she mentioned the pain to the technician doing the procedure, in which a machine emits a pulse of intense light waves onto the skin to destroy the hair follicle.
The technician completed the procedure and told her to come back later if the pain persisted, Nadeau said.
"By the time I got home it literally felt like I was standing in boiling oil. It was so painful," she said.
"It was red and almost puffy, like you would expect from a burn."
Five months later, Nadeau still has hypopigmentation scars from the knees down and all across her groin. A dermatologist said the nickel-sized white marks might never disappear, she said.
Nadeau is suing Ideal Image Group of Canada and the unnamed technician for damages, alleging her injuries were caused because they breached a standard of care.
Among other things, the statement of claim alleges the technician failed to assess Nadeau's skin type to determine the appropriate intensity and duration of energy that can be administered during hair removal, and failed to respond to Nadeau's complaints about pain.
A spokesperson for Ideal Image said the company was not aware that a statement of claim had been filed.
In an emailed statement, Dr. James Kung, a medical director at the Granville Ideal Image medical spa, said the company's "medically-trained professionals" perform "millions" of successful hair removal treatments and that the health and safety of clients is a top priority.
Adverse reactions can be caused by exposure to sun, allergic reactions, or certain lotions and medications, but most of them resolve over time, he said.
"We are looking into what happened in this specific case, will respond through the court process and are committed to resolving this matter," Kung said.
Nadeau, an exotic dancer, says the marks left on her body have been difficult to conceal and have resulted in a decrease in wages.
'It's just the Wild West'
Laser hair removal has become more popular in recent years as an alternative to waxing or shaving, said Kirsten Engel, a board member of the Beauty Council of Western Canada who has 17 years of experience in the beauty industry.
The organization seeks to heighten the quality of B.C.'s unregulated beauty industry — which includes a wide range of professions, from nail artists to technicians performing semi-medical procedures like laser hair removal — by offering exams and certifications in safety, sanitation and competency.
The provincial government considers laser hair removal a "relatively safe" and non-invasive procedure, which is one of the reasons why there are no specific qualifications needed to operate laser hair removal machines in B.C., Engel said.
"As a service provider you can lease [a machine] for as little as a couple hundred dollars a month and start operating the next day," Engel said.
"It's just the Wild West."
Injuries from laser hair removal are rare, Engel said, but it can happen.
The machine's laser targets dark pigments, she said, and works best on people with fair skin and dark hair — the machine can better tell the difference between the hair and the skin.
But people with darker skin and hair can be burned if the machine can't distinguish the difference, she said.
That's why Engel believes there needs to be stronger provincial regulation on training for procedures like this.
"There should be some requirement to prove you know how to do this," Engel said.
She suggests anyone considering laser hair removal should ask questions about what type of machine is being used, how many years a technician has been performing the procedure, and ask to see any diplomas or certifications that show proof of training or experience.
"We shouldn't have to rely on Google reviews to determine the possible safety of a service provider," Engel said.
Nadeau heard about Ideal Image from a friend and from radio advertisements. As she waits to find out whether her scars will fade over time, she wishes she had done more research.
"It's embarrassing," she said.
"I honestly don't wish this on anyone."