Salon visits reveal illegal use of lasers

Many beauty parlours and barber shops have the cosmetic devices, but inspectors say they should only be used with expert supervision.

A public health inspector, Ahmed,  issues a warning to a salon in the Tourist Club area after spotting an IPL laser apparatus. 

Matt Kwong/The National
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ABU DHABI // Health inspectors have ordered the removal of dozens of cosmetic lasers and peelers from beauty parlours and barber shops that are not certified to operate the equipment. The surprise inspection campaign, which began on January 18, found that as many as a quarter of the city's more than 400 salons were using potentially risky anti-ageing devices that should be used only under supervision of a doctor or certified technician.

"Some of these special machines are for tattoos or whitening, some for peeling skin. Some should not be in a beauty salon at all," said Khalifa al Rumaithi, the head of the health control section of Abu Dhabi Municipality. "Some of these machines belong in a clinic or a hospital. This is the reason we get shocked." Popular treatments such as laser hair-removal might be authorised at certain clinics, Mr al Rumaithi said, but salon customers might not understand the dangers such as burns and scarring that can occur without the presence of a certified professional on hand.

"We find this laser machine even in the men's salon because some men don't want to shave at the neck," he said. "But unless it's in a hospital or with a doctor's care, this can be something very dangerous." Anti-ageing Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) lasers were also common in the shops although they were not sanctioned by health officials for use in salons, said Mohammed Osman, a senior analyst with the public health section.

Last week, officials of the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi said it would publish guidelines for beauty clinics that perform laser and other technical procedures. Mr al Rumaithi described the improper use of cosmetic machines as a serious violation that could result in a fine of up to Dh10,000 (US$2,700). A repeat violation could result in a stiffer fine and closure of the business. Minor infractions such as neglecting to sweep the floors between new customers at a barber shop could mean Dh200 fines.

Businesses found to be operating cosmetic machines improperly were given warnings to remove them from the shops. "We covered these machines and said they cannot be used, and we give them, like, two days," Mr al Rumaithi said. "We come back after and if the machine's gone, then OK. If not, we get an order from the judge. "You don't go to a salon and there's a man with a small piece of paper that says, 'I took a course with this machine'," he said. "Sometimes that's not enough. You go and see the skin doctor and they say OK, your skin is strong enough to use this laser."

Last week, Ahmed, a public health inspector for 15 years, issued a warning to a salon in the Tourist Club area after spotting an IPL laser apparatus. "I asked him where's the approval from the public health department? He said he just got it new from the catalogue," said Ahmed, who asked for his last name not to be published. "He promised me he will remove that laser machine, so we'll keep his number in the file and if the second time is like that, there will be a fine."

As part of a three-week campaign begun last month to improve sanitary conditions at beauty centres, the municipality's 40 public health inspectors and a team of analysts questioned business owners and collected swabs from towels, combs, razors and scissors. The inspectors were nearing the end of the intensive campaign, and had so far issued warnings to 114 shops, Mr al Rumaithi said. Of those, 45 had since been cleared after correcting their mistakes and 55 cases had been transferred to the courts.

The most common complaints from salon customers are usually related to unhygienic practices, such as stylists reusing towels for multiple customers. Hair stylists, for instance, must keep scissors and combs under an ultraviolet light steriliser, but several shops were only using commercial light bulbs. "That doesn't give the same wavelength, so there's no sterilising function," said Mr Osman. "It's just like decoration."

In a bid to inform customers about what to look for in a properly managed salon, Mr al Rumaithi said information posters would be put up in barber shops and beauty parlours in the coming weeks. He encouraged patrons to report any health risks by calling the municipality's hotline at 993. The public health section is recruiting Emirati inspectors and expects to have 28 new officials by next month, including additional female inspectors to check beauty parlours and women's spas.