Navigating Requirements and Regulation in the Laser Industry
by David Silberman
After finishing aesthetic school in Arizona back in 2002, Kristen Michaels knew she wanted to do much more than facials and peels. She quickly pursued the world of medical aesthetics and found work at a doctor’s office. It was there where she was introduced to lasers. “At first I was a little nervous about learning this technology for laser hair reduction, intense pulse light (IPL) photofacials, and a few other procedures.” Kris had heard stories of how people could get burned by novices without any aesthetics or laser training. “I felt like the whole country was the Wild Wild West where anyone – whether an ex-flight attendant or a former waitress – could fire a laser.” Until recently, there was no proper training available for any laser techs nationwide. Fortunately, the climate has changed since Kris first got started. The marketplace is now much safer for consumers and technicians alike, with comprehensive laser education offered at many facilities.
As demand for laser hair removal and other light-based procedures skyrockets, more stringent certification regulations are required for laser and other non-surgical options. Medical Insight, Inc. released a new Global Aesthetic Market research report which projects that the global aesthetic industry will experience unprecedented growth over the next five years. Laser aesthetics are forecast to increase by 12.5% annually and reach $15.3 billion by 2011. This incredible growth and anticipation of continued expansion is promising for individuals interested in pursuing a career in non-surgical techniques, such as laser hair removal, photofacial, laser tattoo removal, laser wrinkle reduction, and skin tightening. In light of the explosive marketplace, it appears that most states will lean towards implementing laws that require mandatory training hours in order to operate laser devices.
Laser Training Now Readily Available
The training required for non-surgical aesthetic procedures is expected to increase as the technology becomes more popular over time. More stringent regulations are also anticipated due to improper use of laser and other devices, leading to burns, scars, and other issues. Proper education and training can protect the safety of those seeking cosmetic treatments by providing crucial knowledge and experience to Aesthetic Laser Technicians. Consequently, regardless of the laws currently in place in a given state, proper training is crucial for anyone interested in pursuing a career in laser aesthetics.
Although rules and regulations differ from state to state, Arizona is pioneering and setting standards for requited education, with laws in place that necessitate a significant amount of mandatory training time. Now many states, such as Texas, Illinois, Nevada, and Massachusetts, have proposed bills to their legislature that would increase the training requited to operate this relatively new technology. The majority of the country is currently in the discussion stages for implementing horse required to perform laser treatments, with anticipated regulatory changes in the near future. In the booming laser industry this fact will help to maintain the quality and safety of treatment.
One confusing issue about the laser/medical aesthetic industry is that laws differ from state to state. The agency within each state that regulates lasers can differ as well. For instance, in one state the medical board regulates lasers, while in another state it might be the health department or a radiation board. Because laser technology is relatively new, you may get conflicting information from different sources and the laws are not always clear. Do not become frustrated; talk to people in the industry to gain more understanding.
Guidelines for Starting out in the Laser Industry
Spas have Medical Supervision: In most states, laser treatments fall into the practice of medicine and facilities that provide laser treatments offer either direct or indirect supervision by a physician, according to their states regulations. (Direct supervision means the physician is available by phone and may be miles away.) So it is important to ask the question anywhere you desire to work, “Do you have a medical doctor?” If the answer is yes, you are good to go!
Understand Your Professional Requirements: Some states require the laser technician to have a prerequisite. While in most states anyone can use a laser, California requires you to be a nurse to fire a laser and Florida requires you to be a nurse or an electrologist with additional specialized training. Most other states have few requirements at all except Arizona, which mandates hours of training. Find out what is going on in your desired state of employment.
Get Proper Training: Some states have specific training requirements, and training is recommended even when not mandated. Arizona requires you to train a minimum of 40 classroom hours, plus 48 hours of clinical training to do multiple procedures. States around the country are proposing similar training requirements and are following Arizona’s lead.
Ask Questions: The laws are taking shape in some states and are not always clear. Talk to laser technicians at your local medical spas and others in the industry to help you understand what is going on in your state. Most state will eventually require some kinds of advanced training.
Even in those states that have no training requirements, the marketplace is shifting. Physicians, medical spas, and salons are seeking employees with laser experience. “How anyone thinks they can spend a few hours with a laser company and be proficient in laser is beyond me,” Kris exclaims. “I truly believe that even after the 100+ hour training course you still need more practice and experience in the real world, but this is an amazing foundation to jump start your career in laser and medical aesthetics.” Kris wished she had a comprehensive training opportunity when she first started in the business; her learning curve would have been shortened greatly. She believes that for, “those technicians already working with laser for hair reduction as well as those thinking about just doing hair reduction, it’s imperative for your career that you branch out into other areas such as photofacials and other skin rejuvenating procedures.” “When I first started, all I did was hair reduction,” says Kris. “Now photofacials have become about 40 percent of the treatments I’m doing and with the capabilities of different laser and IPLs, there is not end in sight on what you can do with the proper training.”
Five Things to Look for in a Laser Training Course
1. Reputation of School
What is the buzz about the school you are interested in? What are graduates saying about it? What are professionals in the field saying about it? How long has the school been in business? Is the school approved though your state’s post secondary board and does it offer financing? Training can be expensive and accredited programs usually have 100% financing options through highly regarded student loan agencies such as Sallie Mae. Ask detailed questions to learn about where you will be studying. Your education is very important! Only go with a reputable program.
2. Experience of Instructors
Who are the instructors? What are their credentials? How long have they been teaching? How long have they been in the industry? Does a dermatologist train you on conditions of the skin? How many instructors will you learn from? Will you learn about business and marketing to help advance your career? It makes a difference to learn from various instructors versus only one or two so you can gain knowledge from a variety of perspectives.
Does the curriculum include a strong classroom foundation in laser bio-physics, anatomy and physiology of hair and skin, laser tissue interaction, laser safety, and specific treatment modalities? Will you become a certified laser safety officer (LSO) upon completion of the course? How many hours of didactic (classroom) training will be provided? How many hours of clinical training? Becoming a Laser Safety Officer is very helpful.
4. Equipment Utilized
Will you be trained on state-of-the-art equipment from the leading manufacturers? How many devices will you learn to use? A course that trains on multiple, state-of-the-art machines will provide you with a more diverse experience that a class with only one piece of equipment. Learning on dated equipment or only one machine will limit your experience.
5. Treatments Performed
In what setting will you perform the treatments? (Doctor’s office, conference room, medical spa?) A medical spa/retail setting offers many advantages in learning the business versus being in a classroom. How many treatments will you perform? What types of procedures will you perform? Will you work on live models? How many hours will you spend observing and treating? What will the ratio of student to instructor be in the clinical portion of the course?
David Silberman serves as Vice President at National Laser Institute, the nation’s largest and most prestigious laser and medical aesthetics training center. Silberman helped found National Laser Institute and is responsible for developing their curriculum and expanding programs to aestheticians, physicians, nurses, and medical professionals. In his 20 years of experience in health education and the wellness industry, Silberman has consulted with medical spas around the country and served as a Director to several non-profit education organizations. He received his Masters Degree of Public Health in Health Education at UCLA and his bachelor’s degree at UC Santa Cruz.