By Patrick O’Brien, J.D., Legal Coordinator for the American Med Spa Association
Laser hair removal (LHR) is one of the most commonly performed non-invasive aesthetic procedures in the U.S., and almost everywhere, it is regulated the same. Most states view LHR as a medical procedure that requires proper training and physician supervision. In a few states—including Georgia, Texas and Massachusetts—non-physicians may perform LHR without physician supervision, provided it is within their scope of practice and they meet certain requirements. In Georgia, for example, a non-physician can apply for and obtain a Cosmetic Laser Practitioner’s license, provided they complete certain courses—and pay a $200 fee, of course.
But in New York state, LHR is entirely unregulated, and thanks to a article titled “Marked” by Elizabeth Roy Stanton that was published by Medium in December 2018, this fact is receiving national attention. “Marked” is a harrowing account of how Stanton’s decision to undergo LHR at a salon in Scarsdale, N.Y., resulted in physical scarring. (AmSpa and ByrdAdatto aided Stanton in preparing the article.)
“At some point in the past, the medical board declared that lasers, when used for hair removal only, are not the practice of medicine, so they don’t oversee who does it,” said Patrick O’Brien, legal coordinator for AmSpa. “There’s no other regulatory body, so laser hair removal is unregulated in New York. Essentially, anybody can go buy a laser, open up a shop, and start doing laser hair removal.”
This relates only to laser hair removal—other uses of lasers in aesthetics are considered to be medical in nature and therefore are regulated by the state medical board and require physician supervision. In the years since the board declared that it did not consider laser hair removal to be medical, the state has attempted to close this loophole, but its efforts have as yet been unsuccessful.
“[The state legislature] tried for several years to pass some kind of licensing regulation,” O’Brien said. “They had a bill last year, but I believe it didn’t gain any traction from medical groups because the bill would have allowed non-medical persons to perform [LHR]. I believe the one before allowed you to become licensed, just like you’d become licensed for doing tattoos or becoming an esthetician.”
On January 18, 2019, a new bill that would create a LHR licensure procedure was filed in New York. This would create a situation similar to Texas’ LHR law, which allows licensed individuals to operate largely independently, though they are required to submit to periodic oversight by a physician. However, it remains to be seen if it will be passed into law.
“It seems like the trend is to create a separate license,” O’Brien said. “Most states treat it as a medical procedure, and so a doctor has to supervise it, but many are seeing that it is relatively safe and that people, with training and being properly overseen, can do it. I think you’ll see states move to open it up to more people, just because it’s so common.”
Stay tuned to AmSpa for more details as this story develops. And if you’d like to learn about the laser laws in your state, join AmSpa or consult an experienced health care attorney.