Hair Removal
Reporter: Helen Wellings

It's just over 5 weeks to what's predicted to be a long, hot summer and the beauty industry is gearing up for a bonanza season - hair removal treatments particularly are expected to hit record sales levels. While fashion is dictating more and more hair on the head, body hair is out from top to toe! Hair removal can be a very risky procedure. It requires alot of skill and experience, but this largely unregulated industry is attracting untrained, inexperienced operators, in for the money.

Blistered faces, burnt upper lips and eyebrows, charred chins, bungled Brazillians, scarred legs, pigment loss, life-threatening infections, filthy incompetent practices - waxing, lasering and IPL, gone horribly wrong. A national disgrace. What does it take for our government to stop thousands of horrific injuries, every year, from bodgy hair removal treatments - some so serious they disfigure patients permanently.

"We're getting pigmentation, we're getting blistering and all sorts of problems because these untrained people are practising on members of the public trying to get rid of their hair" says Dr Shumack.

"I've been to get my eyebrows waxed twice, and both of the times it was just disastrous" says Daniela.

Even the simplest of procedures botched. Daniela D'Aguanna, a trained beautician herself, went to a what was recommended as a reputable salon, to spruce up for her best friend's wedding. She ended up rushing to the doctors.

With our national aversion to hairy bodies, the business of hair removal's reached hugely profitable heights.

Supermarkets and pharmacies sell almost $150 million worth a year of razors, depilatory creams, gels, strip waxes, cold and hot waxes. Beauty salons by the thousands are making a killing on waxing and electrolysis. Newer methods promising permanency and less pain are really going gangbusters, like Intense Pulse Light (IPL) and Laser. Consumers are spending a record $300 million a year.

Dermatologist Dr Stephen Shumack says most consumers are unaware of the huge risks lurking in many salons.

Today Tonight's secret cameras reveal an industry with no controls - prone to using untrained, inexperienced low-paid technicians, employing dirty, unhygienic practices. Waxing pots and spatulas crawling with potentially lethal bacteria.

"They can pass on various infections, and these can be bacterial infections, or even viral infections like herpes. So you've got to be very careful to make sure they're using a new spatula, and a new pot, and you're not using what's been used for the previous ten patients" says Dr Shumack.

They should wear gloves but no gloves within cooee of the salons we videoed. Double-dipping into the wax pot is a no-no, operators must use a new spatula every dip, one use, then into the bin. These salons re-dip and re-use spatulas, infecting the wax-pot and risking their customers' health.

Equally worrying are illegal hair-removal devices pervading our market. We uncovered a warehouse full of cheap IPLs imported from China and Korea - Intense Pulse Light machines used to remove anything from hair to wrinkles. Not approved by our Therapeutic Goods Administration, classified as medium to high risk, in wrong beautician's hands - a disastrous combination.

"It's all about the skill and the knowledge of the technician, and the machine ... a lot of the problems occurring, are with IPL machines and untrained technicians" says Nadine.

Nadine Ismail has made hair removal her family's mission, since she wanted to find solutions for her own hairy arms. 16 years ago they set up the, now, international Nad's, selling creams, gels and waxes - then 2 years ago, they launched laser clinics. Like other reputable clinics, they only employ accredited technicians with minimum 5 years experience, essential for using machines safely.

"A laser has a single wave length and that can really target the hair follicle. With an IPL it has varying wave lengths, so you'll have different energies, different levels, some of the wave lengths will not even target the hair, it will target things like the skin" explains Nadine.

"With IPL machines, we believe that they should be operated by doctors, or under the direct supervision of a doctor. So in other words, we don't believe that they should be sold as they are at the moment, to anyone."

Lasers are not effective on blonds, red and grey hair, so they could be wasting their money. And not one laser or IPL will suit all different skin types. You need one for dark, another for lighter skins, and they must be on the correct energy setting for the individual. The latest laser models are superior, safer, and on average you need about 6-8 treatments for permanent hair reduction.

"It has a patented dynamic cooling device, so what happens when the laser is pulsed, it sprays a cooling spray at the end so it really protects the skin and minimising any chance of burning and minimising any chance of discomfort" says Nadine.

Dermatologist, Dr Jim Walter, who's collated more than 200 complaints about IPL and laser treatments, is fed up waiting for governments to legislate to protect patients.

"It was seen the only way to get public awareness is through the media, because we've tried through government agencies for years, they pass it from desk to desk and from state to commonwealth agencies and still nothing happens" says Dr Walter.

The problems will continue to fester. A working group was set up by the Federal government in 2001, 7 years ago, to investigate uniform national regulations controlling practitioners - people who use lasers and IPLs. But nothing's happened. Queensland and Western Australia are the only states where a licence is required to use laser equipment - and they took it upon themselves to do that.

"You've just got to be extremely careful you're going to a trained beauty therapist, because if you're not, you can end up totally mangled" says Daniela.

106 Curtis Road
Contact: (02) 9555 1999