30 March 2022

The use of radiation for common cosmetic procedures such as hair removal and skin rejuvenation is growing in popularity, but consumers are at risk of injuries such as burns, blistering, scarring and eye damage, experts warn in a paper published today.

The article, published in Public Health Research & Practice, a peer-reviewed journal of the Sax Institute, says regulation of non-ionising radiation for common cosmetic procedures is “limited and inconsistent” in Australia, despite the level of skill needed to perform many of the procedures. Non-ionising radiation is a lower energy form of radiation compared with ionising radiation, although it can still lead to a range of biological effects.

“There is currently no national approach to regulation of devices or services using non-ionising radiation for cosmetic purposes, with the exception of the ban on solariums,” says lead author Associate Professor Ken Karipidis of the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA)

At the state level, only Tasmania, Queensland and Western Australia have regulatory controls, but even then only for certain optical cosmetic applications. There are no restrictions for importing cosmetic radiation devices into Australia.

“Despite a public perception that cosmetic radiation procedures are quick and easy, many are complex and require skill and experience for safe and effective application. This research reinforces the need for consistent and well-defined training requirements across all Australian jurisdictions,” says Associate Professor Karipidis.

Potential injuries from radiation in cosmetic procedures may be temporary or more rarely permanent, the authors write. Temporary adverse effects include pain, rashes, swelling and changes in pigmentation, while more severe injuries that may have permanent effects include burns, blisters, scarring, persistent rashes, altered pigmentation and eye damage.

The risks of using radiation in cosmetic procedures have not been well investigated, the authors say, with most research focusing on aesthetic outcomes rather than the risk of complications. But the causes of injuries are likely to include untrained service providers, inappropriate use of devices and ignored safety procedures, among other reasons.

It is also unknown whether pregnant women and children are at greater risk. The authors suggest pregnant women seek medical advice before undergoing cosmetic radiation procedures, and parents consider that treatments on children are conducted under the supervision of medical professionals.

The authors call for more research on the burden of injury resulting from NIR cosmetic treatment to inform authorities on the potential need for greater regulation.

“We’re working with Monash University to support a PhD candidate to further investigate the health impact of radiation used in cosmetic procedures,” says Associate Professor Karipidis.

“Further understanding of the injury burden will assist in further policy considerations by State and Territory regulators.”

In the meantime, ARPANSA has published national advice for consumers and treatment providers to address the possible risks associated with cosmetic radiation procedures and inconsistent oversight across Australia.

Please acknowledge Public Health Research & Practice as the source for any stories on our papers.

The link to the published article on the cosmetic non-ionising radiation applications will be: https://doi.org/10.17061/phrp32122204. This link can be included in news stories and will be active once the embargo lifts.