Cheap, cheerful and uncalibrated?

The allure of saving tens of thousands of dollars on the price of an IPL system or cosmetic laser is luring beauty business owners towards many Chinese suppliers’ websites, and other international trading sites; the opportunity to purchase a cheaper starter model IPL seems innocent enough; however there are issues that many are unaware of.

The decision to purchase cheaper machines stems mostly from clinic owners wanting to save money on the usually costly investment into a popular treatment modality. The opportunity to purchase an IPL or laser landed on your doorstep for around $5,000 NZD, versus purchasing virtually the same machine here for over $20,000 may save you $15,000, and yes, it is true you will likely be getting the exact (or very similar) model, however after seeing many clients travel this risky path, Director of NZ Laser Training Ruth Nicholson states that many are blissfully unaware that these machines are unable to be calibrated; in fact most are unable to be recalibrated which makes for a more difficult situation for the clinic owner.

Ruth says,“In order for a machine to be able to be used in a beauty clinic in the Auckland Council region, the system itself must be able to be calibrated.” The problem with most cheap models coming in from China is that they are indeed cheap and cheerful, in fact most would be cheap enough to throw away after only 12 months of use. The income generated from these light-based systems would return the original purchase price in a very short space of time. Where things get tricky is when the output can only be measured, but not recalibrated; this means that there is a high chance the output energy the machine is producing is not actually delivering the energy set on the display panel. What this means for the clinic, is that Auckland Council has the powers to issue a cease use order. For the client this means if the machine is uncalibrated the output energy could be seriously underpowered, meaning no results, or worse the machine could be delivering spikes of energy potentially causing burns. There is a difference between having an IPL or Laser machine simply ‘serviced’, ‘calibrated’ or ‘recalibrated’. Clinic owners should be taking responsibility for asking more questions around this issue and become more aware of the risks that uncalibrated IPL and laser machines pose. Advice is available and there is no excuse for not understanding this technical matter.”

IPL and laser manufacturing production plants in China vary considerably and apparently there are certain regions in China that have ‘better quality goods’ than other areas, however all manufacturer’s that Ruth has come across do not provide calibration methods or servicing staff in New Zealand. This would mean that companies in NZ that currently provide servicing for IPL and lasers are only able to provide a measurement of the current output but are not able to recalibrate or realign the energy output to what it should be on these imported machines due to no access to technical specifications required.

In simple terms the energy being delivered would most likely be far less than what is set on the display panel, and therefore less effective; the opposite problem is when spikes of energy occur within the pulse structure which in turn delivers uneven beam profiles and can lead to burns due to higher than expected peaks of energy during the IPL pulse being delivered to the skin.
Calibration is vital for accuracy and safety and without this function the Auckland Council now has the power to stop clinics using the machines that are unable to be calibrated. The Health & Hygiene Bylaw 2013 Part 7 states: “Use of pulsed light equipment”
7(17) All operators must ensure the pulsed light equipment is calibrated to make sure that it is working properly and accurately. The wavelength and service parameters of the equipment must be set according to skin type, hair type, test patch results, and previous service settings.

This wording would imply that not only do machines need to be calibrated, but the mention of ‘working properly and accurately’ could be interpreted as being recalibrated in order to achieve the desired accuracy. In NZ many companies act as distributors because they make a generous margin in selling these cheaper machines at affordable starter prices and cheap weekly rentals; the fact that most are not able to meet ideal criteria doesn’t play much of a part their marketing materials.

“If clinics wish to proceed with buying directly from manufacturer’s in China, it would be advised that they seek the opinion of an independent technical serving agent here in NZ prior to making the purchase so that they are not caught out, particularly if their business is in the Auckland region as the council staff are trained to ask in-depth questions and clinics are now required to produce evidence of calibration reports; as well as servicing reports which will clearly state any variances in output of energ,” Ruth states.

“I have found that clinics don’t like hearing the truth however in the end they always thank me for helping them save their business in the long run,” says Ruth. “After seeing many clients make decisions that come back to bite them, it is just something I feel needs to be more clearly addressed; in my opinion many of these cheaper machines available simply do not have the peak energy density, or flexibility to alter treatment parameters to optimise the outcome of the treatment, or even produce a wavelength able to reach the hair bulb sitting at 4–6mm in the first place, this is mostly an issue for hair removal, as pretty much anything that produces a bright flash of light around 500–600nm IPL will grab pigmentation,” says Ruth. The biggest question is, does the therapist want better control over the energy being delivered? It is not expensive to make a low powered flashbulb in an impressive casing – this is done on a mass production line where fancy looking machines are pumped out by the thousand, the actual output of energy, consistency of that energy and the longer term life of these machines is what is in question here. There is no doubt that China can produce impressive sounding machines that seem equal to the more expensive machines, however it is only through correct training and questioning that these differences become more evident.

The industry may also be interested to know that low-fluence home-use light-based hair removal IPL and laser devices are now readily available in department stores. This is a story that was featured on TVNZ’s show Seven Sharp recently – where reporter Erin Conroy and Director of NZ Laser Training, Ruth Nicholson simply went into a store in West Auckland and purchased an IPL machine for only $319. The shop assistant was only able to state “This is the big one, and this is the smaller one” – there were no questions about who was going to use the IPL device, what skin colour they were using it on, or any instructions on safe use. After purchasing this product and opening it up back at the office, it was discovered that there are no safety glasses issued with the device. The wavelength (supposedly designed for hair removal) was actually 475nm, and the maximum joules able to be produced is 5 j/cm2. There were shortcomings and conflicts in the safety instructions and claims against what the IPL device could actually deliver, most of these shortcomings or warnings against use of the device the consumer would not discover until after the purchase was completed.

With a little further investigation, Ruth uncovered a clinical study that highlighted results achieved from a home diode laser 810nm device which had been used on a group of consumers and tests run to check results, consumer satisfaction at reduced hair growth, colour and density. Initially the consumer will in fact reduce the hair growth, density and colour, however once they stop using the laser device the hair will regrow as if never treated, in fact some reported the hair growth was almost stimulated. This is what was reported: “Thirty-two women completed the study protocol. During sustained treatment, there was a reduction in growing hair that reached a plateau of up to 59 percent, while remaining hairs became up to 38 percent thinner and five percent lighter (P < 0001). The majority of subjects (77 percent) reported ‘moderately’ to ‘much less hair’ in treated than untreated axilla, and assessed remaining hairs as thinner and lighter (≥ 60 percent). After treatment cessation however, hair growth gradually returned to baseline levels, and three months after the final treatment the count and thickness of actively growing hair exceeded pre-treatment values by 29 percent and seven percent, respectively.”

Ruth states that low fluence (Energy) devices provide an option for consumers wanting to do ‘photo-epilation’ such as waxing with light, in their own homes, however there are many safety warnings and misinformation that should be more readily available to consumers before they decide to purchase, this is something that the authorities should look into. Consumers using these devices need to understand that low fluence IPL and laser systems designed for home use will never replace professional high powered and therefore more effective in-clinic treatments.

Source: Quantitative assessment of growing hair counts, thickness and colour during and after treatments with a low-fluence, home-device laser: a randomised controlled trial*
D. Thaysen-Petersen 1, M. Barbet-Pfeilsticker 2, F. Beerwerth 2, J.F. Nash 3, P.A. Philipsen 1, P. Staubach 4 and M. Haedersdal 1.

Article supplied by Ruth Nicholson – NZ Laser Training  

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