Beauty parlours that offer laser skin treatment will continue to pose a danger until they are forced to use only licensed medical professionals to operate equipment, a panel of doctors told a forum yesterday.
In one case, a woman who received laser treatment from a beauty parlour suffered a second-degree burn, said Connie Lau Yin-hing, a former chairwoman of the Consumer Council and a panel speaker.
In another example of why regulation is needed, the forum was told that one parlour charged as much as HK$240,000 for its laser skin treatment - more than double what a dermatologist would normally charge.
At present, anyone performing laser treatment or operating intense pulsed-light equipment is not required to have medical training. Doctors say professionals should be operating such sophisticated equipment.
Lau said the Consumer Council received 99 complaints about light-based cosmetic treatments in the first 10 months of this year - already more than last year's total. Some of them were critical of hefty charges by the beauty parlours, Lau said.
Misleading advertisements were also common, Lau said. Some touted permanent hair removal, but Lau said tests by the US Food and Drug Administration did not support such claims.
Lau, who is also chairwoman-designate of a working group set up by the UN Conference on Trade and Development, said Hong Kong needed laws to ensure "the right person does the right thing".
"It's necessary to have a certain level of regulation. High-risk medical procedures should be performed only by qualified doctors," Lau said.
Hong Kong Surgical Laser Association president Dr Chan Wai-man said the government should pass legislation to bar non-doctors from using the high-risk equipment. "At present, anyone can open a clinic and use such equipment, even if they do not have a medical qualification."
He said veteran specialists agreed that using intense pulsed-light equipment was tricky. "When the intensity is too low, the customer will say it's not working. When it's too high, there'll be side effects."
Medical Association vice-president Dr Chow Pak-chin said legislation should cover four aspects: import, installation, repair and use of the equipment. "Beauty parlours would be responsible for ensuring the first three areas are OK."
Chow said it took a fatal accident in October involving the DR beauty centre for the government to wake up to the problem.