Finally, a report has recently been published regarding the infamous “smell” during laser hair removal. You know the one…

The one patients ask about…”what is that? Smells like popcorn or is it burnt hair? Or is that my skin?!”

The smell your instructors and manufacturers have told you is a sign of an effective treatment. Where you stick your nose 2 inches away from treated body parts waving your hand back & forth for any sign of that smell of success.

The smell that excites you – the smell that says…you have chosen the right fluence, the right pulse width, your parameters are set perfectly, and your client is going to see great results. You did it! The hair has been damaged in that perfect anagen stage, while the smell fills your room and wafts into the hallways of your clinic.

Have you ever considered what you & your clients are inhaling?

Researchers have, and what they’ve found is not good.

The smell I am referring to is called Laser “Plume”. Laser plumes are the vapours, smoke and small particles of debris produced during a laser treatment. A recent study has been published in JAMA Dermatology in July/2016 by Dr. Gary Chuang and his colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston University and the University of California which studies the gaseous and particulate content of laser hair removal plume.

These researchers analyzed 30 seconds of Laser plume, and what they have found is shocking. Their analysis identified a cocktail of 377 chemical compounds. 62 of these compounds, of which 13 are known or suspected carcinogens and more than 20 are known environmental toxins, exhibited strong absorption peaks.

Laser Plume can contain so many contaminants, including viable bacteria & viruses. The gases not only include toxic substances such as benzene, formaldehyde, and hydrogen cyanide but the plume can also contain aerosolized blood and in some studies Laser plume has been shown to actually transmit diseases such as the human papilloma virus (HPV) DNA and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

The Canadian Standards Association (CSA) has also acknowledged the dangers associated with laser plume. CSA Standard Z395.13-13 – Plume scavenging in surgical, diagnostic, therapeutic and aesthetic settings: “Plume thus poses a hazard to exposed persons and can transmit infection. The contaminants in plume can cause respiratory problems or have mutagenic or carcinogenic effects. They can also cause mucous membrane, ocular, respiratory, and skin irritations…”

Dr. Chuang and his associates have concluded in their study that the plume released during laser hair removal should be considered a “biohazard, warranting the use of smoke evacuators, good ventilation, and respiratory protection.” He also added: “Laser hair removal performed by improperly trained personnel or in an inadequately equipped facility will put both the healthcare workers and patients at risk.” Most properly trained Laser Safety Officers are well aware of the risks associated with laser plume. Some may actually take the proper precautions, however many ignore the warnings and others who offer Laser Hair Removal simply don’t even know.

This may seem quite frightening to many, however one must look at these results with an open mind. We must consider that there has never been an epidemic of illness, disease or increase in cancer reported among technicians operating laser hair removal equipment, nor in patients who have had the procedure. One would assume that the frequency of plume inhalation would be factor, and how different are these levels when compared to our exposure of everyday pollutants in our air? I would hope that this study sets off some alarms, and will encourage further investigation into the risks associated with exposure to laser plume. Nevertheless, I am neither a scientist nor a physician, but let me know if you’re willing to wait for the next study on long term effects or will you be implementing the suggested preventative measures today.

Citation: Chuang GS, Farinelli W, Christiani DC, Herrick RF, et al. Gaseous and particulate content of laser hair removal plume. [Published online July 6, 2016]. JAMA Dermatol. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2016.2097.