17 Apr 2024

The dark side of the beauty industry

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 17 April 2024

No medical qualifications required - yet technicians in the rapidly expanding beauty industry are dealing with dangerous substances.

Non-invasive anti-aging method combats visible signs of aging as wrinkles, pigmentation, rosacea, age spots, broken capillaries, acne etc. IPL - intense pulsed light treatment

Non-invasive anti-aging method combats visible signs of aging as wrinkles, pigmentation, rosacea, age spots, broken capillaries, acne etc. Photo: Getty Images / Coolpicture

There is nothing to stop someone from buying a laser machine online and setting up a shop offering treatments for skin. Or injecting dermal filler into a client's face.

No qualifications are needed for either treatment, but when it goes wrong the results can be life changing, even life threatening.

Cosmetic medicine professionals say the industry is exploding, with investors from offshore who are driven by profit taking advantage of the lack of regulations.

"I don't think anyone's allowed it to happen, it's just happened," dermatological surgeon Dr Ken MacDonald says. 

"A few years ago it never occurred to us that any Tom, Dick and Harry would get one of these machines, but it's happened."

MacDonald says not all laser companies have a "proper ethical stance. In other words, they are prepared to sell these devices to anyone who pays for them".

People doing laser treatments may have two days training, and without any medical qualifications they may mistake an early melanoma for an age spot, or the client gets burnt, or gets an infection which leads to scarring.

"They say: 'oh yes, we can treat that', but they don't know what it is and so there is clearly a diagnosis failure."

MacDonald, who is the chair of the New Zealand Cosmetic Dermatology Surgical Group, urges clients to go to clinics that have a medical component.

He says there are local regulations for Auckland businesses but they are toothless. He wants to see lasers in a more supervised environment where there is more access to medical help and where the health and safety standards are adequate.

Dr. Sarah Hart

Photo: Dr. Sarah Hart

"There've got to be policed standards and ideally an association with medical clinics so people can get a prescription for infections or early skin damage treated in an appropriate way," he tells The Detail.

Doctor Sarah Hart has a box labelled 'blindness' in her Ponsonby cosmetic clinic, an emergency kit in case something goes wrong when she is injecting dermal filler into a client's face. It contains a substance that can reverse the treatment and avoid causing blindness. It is mandatory for all members of the New Zealand Society of Cosmetic Medicine.

But it is not a legal requirement for people administering dermal filler and nor do they need a medical qualification.

Hart, who has 30 years' experience in medicine including 20 in cosmetic medicine, says the laws have not kept pace with the growth of the industry.

"The Medicines Act [is] from 1981, [when] none of this existed. You have 1981 legislation trying to deal with the advertising on social media of these products. We think it needs to be better regulated in order to protect the public," she says.

She worries that more young people, mostly women in their 20s, are going to clinics seeking dermal filler or Botox when they have no wrinkles, pressured by friends and social media images.

Hart says professionals in industry were "excited" that the new Therapeutic Products Act put restrictions around medical devices but it is not clear whether that legislation will stand under the current coalition government.

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