Tanning + laser = bad idea

Fri, Aug. 04, 2006
When pain is in the eyes of the beholder
By Melissa Dribben
The Philadelphia Inquirer

Terry Bowling was thinking more about budget than safety three years ago when she went to the Steliotes Dental Spa near Pittsburgh, which was offering a special discount on laser hair removal.

She was greeted by a woman in a long, white coat. “I thought she was the doctor.” Bowling asked, she says, if her deep tan was a problem and was told no.

Wrong. The light intensity needs to be adjusted for different toned skin. As soon as the treatment began, Bowling’s skin began to blister. The pain was hideous.

Two days later, she went to see plastic surgeon Karen Roche.

“There will always be some sleazebag to do something they’re not qualified to do,” says Roche. “But why isn’t our state doing anything to protect the public?”

Bowling filed a complaint with the state of Pennsylvania and sued the spa. A settlement was reached. Most of the money, Bowling says, went to pay her medical bills.

“This is a serious, troubling problem that we face,” says Basil Merenda, commissioner of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs. He describes the agency as “complaint-driven” and says that unless people report problems, the state can’t address them.

Doctors counted hundreds of burns on Bowling’s body. Although the marks have faded, her legs have a permanent checkerboard pattern that becomes more visible when she goes out in the sun.

“I haven’t been to the beach. … I haven’t worn shorts or a skirt. I don’t show my legs anymore. … I was scared to death that I’d be scarred for life,” she says. “And I am.”