Various treatments and their risks

Non-ionizing radiation is often used in beauty care. Safety aspects are critical in the treatments, since excessively strong radiation can cause several kinds of injuries.

Many beauty care technologies are based on treating the skin or the body with non-ionizing radiation. Safety aspects are critical in the treatments, since excessively strong radiation can cause a multitude of injuries. For example, the skin may burn or scar. Skin pigmentation may become darker or lighter. The injury may take months to heal and may require medical attention. Sometimes, injuries may also occur below the skin. In these cases, pain may not be felt even if the damage is severe. The safety of any treatment is always the responsibility of the provider.

A professional cosmetologist can perform most treatments safely. However, more challenging operations, such as tattoo removal and ultrasound cavitation, are best performed by a medical professional. Customers should be completely honest when asked about any barriers to treatment, since various medications and diseases can significantly affect the radiation tolerance of skin and body. Taking treatments should be avoided during pregnancy if there is even the slightest doubt that the treatment could pose a risk to the foetus.

The Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority supervises the use of non-ionizing radiation in beauty care. The Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority does not take a stand on the efficacy of the treatments.

Tattoo and pigmentation removal

Tattoo removal uses high-power laser equipment – in practice, only class 4 laser equipment is powerful enough to remove tattoos. Class 4 laser equipment exceeds the maximum values of skin exposure, so it may only be used for skin treatment on the order of or supervised by a physician.

Hair removal

In addition to traditional methods (such as depilation, wax, sugaring), several hair removal methods use non-ionizing radiation. If laser equipment is used, it must not be a class 4 laser, since its radiation is strong enough to damage skin. The skin may burn and become permanently damaged by scars and other damages. A class 4 laser beam hitting the eye will immediately damage the eye and eyesight.

Pulsed light technology and other technology combined with it poses a burn hazard. The skin may absorb a high amount of energy and be burned as a result. This risk is especially high with dark skin. Likewise, any dark areas on the skin (moles, tattoos) absorb radiation easily and this radiation heats up the tissue. Skin pigmentation may also be permanently altered; for example, dark or light patches might appear.

Skin care

Many different technologies can be used to treat the skin.

Laser treatments seek to improve the condition of the skin, for example, by peeling layers of skin. Excessively strong laser equipment or laser pulses can damage the skin. For example, class 4 laser equipment may only be used on the order of or supervised by a physician.

In intense pulsed light (IPL) technology, the skin is exposed to one or more high-power pulses of light. The purpose of the treatment can be, for example, the removal of pigmented patches, treatment of acne or other skin remediation. A light pulse can direct a lot of energy onto a small area of the skin, causing for example a burn or alterations in pigmentation.

Ultrasound is used to stimulate subcutaneous parts of the body with the expectation that it will improve skin elasticity. Ultrasound can also be use for skin cleansing. Ultrasound should not be directed to bones, since excessively strong ultrasound can damage bone. Ultrasound hitting the skull might be conducted to the eye, damaging it.

Radio frequency (RF) equipment is used for stimulating subcutaneous parts of the body. The purpose of the treatment is to rejuvenate the skin. Finland has specified exposure limits for RF radiation that may not be exceeded in non-medical treatment. RF treatments direct a large amount of electromagnetic energy onto the skin. Absorption of RF radiation into the skin and subcutaneous tissues varies, so these treatments require caution. Excessive exposure may cause tingling and reddening, and in the worst case, even a burn. Damage can form below the surface of the skin, which makes it difficult to detect.

An RF device is often used in parallel with another treatment device to warm the skin or body tissue, thereby increasing the efficacy of the other treatment. These combination therapies have the risk of exposing the body to excessive amounts of energy that can injure the skin or tissues.

Fat and cellulite removal

The aim of fat removal is to use ultrasound to break up the subcutaneous fat layer (cavitation), which should allow the metabolism to process the fat out of the body after a while. Ultrasound used in cavitation can penetrate dozens of centimetres into the body, so the treatment may expose the person's bones, internal organs and foetus to ultrasonic energy. Due to the risks to the foetus, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority are of the opinion that ultrasound cavitation must not be performed during pregnancy. Moreover, as the substances bound to the fat tissue are released in one go, they might pose a hazard to the health of the person being treated, a breast-fed baby or the foetus.

Beauty care services should not be confused with medical ultrasonic examinations. Ultrasonic examinations are used, for example, for cancer screening and foetal screening. These examinations are completely safe, and pose no risks to the health of the patient or foetus.

The purpose of RF technology is to warm up the subcutaneous layer of fat and convert it into a form that allows the metabolism to eliminate it from the body. Finland has specified maximum exposure limits for RF radiation that may not be exceeded in non-medical treatment.

In case of an injury

If a cosmetic treatment causes an injury or a suspected injury (not all injuries are visible), the affected person should seek medical attention to have the nature of the injury assessed and treated medically.

If a customer and a beauty care provider cannot reach a satisfactory solution on compensation for damages resulting from beauty care, the Consumer Advisory Services can offer advice.

The Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority would like to receive reports about injuries and suspected non-compliant services by email to stuk (at) stuk.fi.

Injuries occurring in health care are handled by the Patient Insurance Centre.

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