NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Laser treatments can smooth and tighten skin, reduce sunspots, remove unwanted hair, and so much more.

But depending on where you chose to have the popular procedure done, you could be putting yourself at greater risk of cancer.

Nancy O’Connell enjoys a little pampering now and then, but on a recent visit to the spa she got a little more than she bargained for.

“They were prepping me for my facial and they said ‘oh, there’s a little rash there, we can make that go away with a laser treatment’,” she recalled.

In O’Connell’s case, it was much more than a little rash. What her facialist wanted to remove with a laser was actually a deep squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer.

“It could have been terrible,” O’Connell said.

Laser skin resurfacing is an excellent option to erase skin irregularities, especially for someone like O’Connell who has a lot of freckles and sunspots.

“I kind of describe lasers almost like a magic bullet,” Dermatologist Dr. Omar Ibrahimi from the Connecticut Skin Institute said. “We can resurface the skin without cutting or stitching.”

According to the American Society for Dermatologic Study, not everyone whose operating the incredibly complicated lasers has had enough training to understand just how powerful the light interacts with patients’ skin and tissue.

“In New York, somebody who graduated high school can pick up and fire a laser,” Dr. Ibrahimi said.

One of the biggest complications, according to Dermatologist Dr. Kavita Mariwalla, is untrained laser technicians missing or obscuring skin cancers.

“If you’re the person firing that laser and you don’t know the difference between a sunspot and a superficial melanoma, that laser is going to get rid of the color on all of them and now you just removed the only clinical sign of that melanoma that the doctor will have,” Dr. Mariwalla said.

Ibrahimi adds that if you remove the spot’s pigment, it might make the cancer too hard to see until it’s too late. Luckily for O’Connell, she declined the laser treatment and showed the spot to her dermatologist who ultimately performed surgery to remove it.

“I’m just grateful,” she said. “If they did laser it, it would still be underneath and I might never know.”

Now, she’s cancer free.

Some states, including New York, allow anyone to operate a laser. In New Jersey, only medical doctors can fire them.


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