How unsafe machines are damaging the industry

The devices debate

Cheap, unsafe machines from some overseas manufacturers are damaging the market and the reputation of the beauty industry. Georgia Seago investigates the risks of buying direct.

The fast pace of the beauty industry is one of the things that make it so exciting to be a part of. But every time expert professional brands bring new concepts to market, maximising on advances in technology and ingredients, there is inevitably an influx of copycat products, from manufacturers with less regard for safety.

As the demand for non-surgical machine-based treatments continues to grow, it’s unfortunate, but perhaps not unsurprising, that these less scrupulous manufacturers, many of which are based overseas, are looking to cash in on the trends.

It’s important to note that there are plenty of reputable manufacturers in Asia that produce machines to safe standards and that enforce strict quality controls. But for buyers solely concerned about price, it’s often the unscrupulous Asia-based sellers that win the custom. In these cases, buyers will often source these machines via the internet and receive them direct from suppliers that have no European office.

Professional Beauty has recently had to turn away a number of overseas manufacturers asking to book stands at its exhibitions in order to sell directly to salons. These manufacturers were refused because they don’t provide sufficient after-sales service and are not insured by a UK broker.

Though cheap, the equipment they sell often falls below EU standards and is supplied with no training or support offered to customers. Professional Beauty’s managing director Mark Moloney says, “Selling products direct without proper service and insurance is wrong and as market leaders we will campaign against unethical behaviour. I urge readers thinking of buying equipment to take proper consideration of aftersales.”

The impact on the industry

It’s noticeable that the recent influx of these machines onto the market is influenced by beauty trends and buzzwords such as “fat freezing” and “radiofrequency”, but salon owners and clients alike should be wary of deceptive copycat devices.

“Some manufacturers are producing outwardly exact copies of recognised machines but without really understanding the way the technology works or what the frequency and output should be,” says Dean Nathanson, managing director of UK-based machine manufacturer Caci International. “Technologies like ultrasound, laser, HIFU [high intensity focused ultrasound] or cryolipolysis can do serious damage if not applied properly and if the output isn’t what it should be.”

Aesthetic devices

Machines with incorrect energy outputs make it onto the market because EU regulations interpret whether or a not a device is medical and, therefore, whether it is subject to medical accreditations and safety standards. If a device is deemed to be for cosmetic use, the rules are far less tight.

“It leaves the door open for all sorts of machines to come into the market that could be claiming one specification but delivering something entirely different,” says Nathanson. However, some of the machines that appear at less rigorous trade shows, or on global trading websites such as Alibaba, do bear a CE mark, used to signify the product has been assessed to meet high safety requirements.

This is where the waters get muddy, because a CE mark is actually a self-certification from the manufacturer, and under EU law there are no rules to say imported devices intended for cosmetic application are required to have their CE marks certified by an independent third party.

Safety checks

Roy Cowley, managing director of 3D-lipo, imports its machines from China and works closely with its manufacturer to control quality and safety standards. “Any responsible importer or sub-manufacturer needs to ensure the CE standard is verified in the UK by an external company in order for it to comply with UK safety standards. If your machine was to electrocute someone in the UK, you’d be told that you were responsible for having that CE standard verified in the UK and you’d then be liable. A lot of people don’t know this and that’s the problem – the fact it comes with a certificate of conformity by no means indicates it actually is compliant.”

Nathanson agrees: “People need to understand that just having a CE mark when it’s a self-declaration is absolutely meaningless. The specification sheet could list an output but often when you measure it, it’s nothing like what it claims to be.”

It’s certainly alarming that UK salons and clinics could be treating clients with devices capable of emitting dangerous energy outputs, but it could also be risky to purchase seemingly harmless consumables direct from overseas factories.

Unsafe devices

Cowley recalls an incident when a client received a freeze burn from a treatment after the salon owner purchased anti-freeze pads from Alibaba and used them with 3D-lipomed’s cryolipolysis function. “They had no idea of the ingredients in the pads and it damaged our reputation – those inferior pads were then associated with a 3D-lipo treatment,” says Cowley.

In a case like this, an insurer would usually reject any claim made by the salon or therapist because the user failed to follow the exact protocol of the reputable machine, including the use of its consumables.

How to make sure you're covered 

“If there’s a problem as a result of a treatment or device [the salon] would have to stand behind a liability claim, which their insurer probably wouldn’t cover. How many businesses would be able to support that by themselves? It could ruin a sole trader,” adds Cowley.

There’s also the issue of having no recourse with an overseas manufacturer that has no representation in the UK. Nathanson says he’s heard of instances where a machine broke down soon after purchase and the salon owner simply couldn’t get it fixed. He has also seen treatment protocols written in broken English mixed with Mandarin, which is worrying when you consider this is often the only form of ‘training’ given on a machine.

Jon Exley, managing director of Lynton Lasers, is also concerned about this lack of training, especially when coupled with a laser or IPL device that hasn’t been installed and calibrated by a qualified engineer. He notes that any laser or IPL device should be maintained to ensure the calibration remains consistent. “Without the availability of local technical support it would seem highly unlikely that the output of a device could be relied upon, meaning the actual treatment fluence, or energy density, could be significantly different from what you may believe is being emitted,” he says.

It’s easy to see how the reputation of the whole industry can become tainted if a client is injured by a device the therapist isn’t properly trained to use or doesn’t know the real output of. “If someone burns a client and it gets into the press then it tars every supplier of that technology with the same brush. This would affect the reputation of any marketplace,” says Cowley.

Ultimately, the most important thing should be client safety and Exley worries this is often overlooked in favour of a cheap deal. He stresses: “Achieving safe and effective treatments requires precise calibration along with an appropriately trained operator, neither of which can be bought from a low-cost internet site.”