'I felt like it was on fire': Woman burned by laser hair removal warning others to do their research

A Toronto woman whose face was burned during a laser hair removal session is warning others to do their research before undergoing the procedure in a largely unregulated industry.

Yvonne Osei said she went to the downtown clinic for a touch-up on her chin Dec. 13. She consulted with the esthetician about her skin type, knowing it's typically less effective on people with darker complexions. 

"She made me confident she knew what she was doing," said Osei, who had undergone several sessions at other salons.

But when she went in for her appointment, Osei quickly realized something was wrong. 

"I'd never felt a pain like that." 

Osei said the esthetician assured her what she was feeling was normal. But immediately afterward, her chin was "burning," she said. 

"I felt like it was on fire." 

She had blisters and suffered second degree burns. 

Photos Osei took of her burned skin as it healed show scarring around her neck and chin. 

Lisa Xing/CBC
Submitted by Yvonne Osei

While Osei signed a waiver to undergo her laser hair removal, and subsequently got a refund, she wants to warn others about her experience. 

"There's no one to complain to," she said. "I found that was unacceptable." 

Lack of regulations

The federal government is responsible for regulating medical devices, including lasers, while provincial governments are responsible for regulations on how they are used. 

Ontario's Ministry of Health told CBC News it requires that "those delivering personal services are properly trained to do so in a safe manner," according to the manufacturer's instructions, which includes maintenance of the devices. 

However, after reviewing the province's regulations, CBC News found there is nothing stipulating how much training is sufficient. 

"There should absolutely be tighter regulations on who is allowed to use these machines and how much training you get," said Osei. 

Submitted by Yvonne Osei

Toronto dermatologist Sonya Cook, whose clinic also offers laser hair removal, says she sees at least one or two patients a week who have run into issues with laser procedures.

Cook looked at photos of Osei's skin and says she will have long term pigment change and possibly even permanent scarring.

She is urging people to get the treatment at locations where there are medical professionals overseeing the process, and like Osei, she wants governments to implement more rules for the industry — something the province says it has no plans to do. 

"There's a lot of harm being done to people," Cook said.