How safe are those 'lunchtime' laser treatments?

HOUSTON When Jeanne Jochens went into a doctor's office for a little laser "refresher," she expected to get rid of some fine lines and brown spots.

"In 2002, I had a face peel for cosmetic reasons," Jochens said.

What she never expected was that her entire face and neck would be so badly burned her own daughter didn't recognize her.

"What it looked like was somebody that had third-degree burns all over their face. My eyes were basically swollen shut," she said. "I looked like someone (who) had been in a very bad fire."

When she finally healed, her face and neck were stripped of all color, covered with raised, white scars.

Now, she hopes to look like her old self again with the help of Baylor Dermatologist Dr. Ramsey Markus.

"We have a technology that seems to be very good for people who are burn victims and that's essentially what she has been, is a burn victim," Dr. Markus said.

Cosmetic lasers are largely unregulated and widely used in strip-mall spas across the country. As lasers have become more prevalent, so have the mistakes they can cause.

"Laser companies do want to sell machines," Dr. Markus said. "Most of the time it's a non-physician who is in a setting that is not a medical setting."

In fact, cases like Jochens are so common, Dr. Markus sees one to two patients every week in his office who've had negative laser outcomes elsewhere.

You don't have to be a doctor to use a laser, and even doctors like the one Jochens went to aren't required to have much experience.

"The doctor who did me, I found out later, had gone to like a weekend workshop," Jochens said.

What should a patient do to avoid problems? Dr. Markus says ask a lot of questions.

"It's a good question to ask the physician, have you seen a scar from this?" Dr. Markus said.

Also, ask for references from other patients and tell the office about any medication you are using.

"You want to avoid doing something that's going to be a super high risk," Dr. Markus said.

Most importantly ask how much experience the person using the laser has.

"If the physician is using a technology for you as the first patient they've ever treated with the laser technology, you probably are not going to get the optimal outcome," Dr. Markus said.

Since she started the corrective process, Jochens' progress has been dramatic.

"It's much better. It continues to improve," she said.

While she wishes she had never had that first laser procedure that caused the damage, she is also grateful there are lasers that can reverse it, restoring both her face, and her confidence.

"I've already seen so much improvement that I'm really encouraged about what will happen as we go forward," Jochens said.

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