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Can people with epilepsy have cosmetic and beauty treatments? Myth-busting

Myth: If you have epilepsy you can be denied some forms of cosmetic and beauty treatments

Fact: Some treatments may be best avoided but a blanket ban on treating people with epilepsy could be unlawful

woman putting on lipstick

Cosmetic and beauty treatments

People with epilepsy can and do enjoy cosmetic and beauty treatments and spa days. However, while many treatments are perfectly safe, a small number of treatments might be best avoided until your seizures are better controlled.

Service providers should treat a person with epilepsy as an individual, and consider whether reasonable adjustments are needed to deliver the treatment safely. To deny people access to these goods and services just because they have epilepsy is direct discrimination, and for this reason unlawful.

Laser hair removal is one of the beauty therapy treatments that we hear most about when it comes to restrictions. It removes unwanted hairs by using a pulsating laser. This is a service that can be provided in salons by beauty technicians, or devices can be purchased to use at home.

We have been told by some people with epilepsy that they have been denied laser hair treatment because of their epilepsy. The explanation given is either:

  • that the laser has an accompanying light that flashes when in use and could trigger seizures, or
  • that the person with epilepsy could have a seizure during the treatment, and may burn or injure themselves on the laser.

The evidence – laser hair removal

The first suggestion, that the flashing of the laser could trigger a seizure, is untrue. Many devices do have a flashing light to indicate it is on. However, this flashes at a rate that should not trigger a seizure in people with photosensitive epilepsy.

It may be possible to be injured if the laser is not properly applied, or if the laser is applied to a sensitive part of the body. This could happen if somebody moves during treatment. Some providers say this is why a person with epilepsy should not have laser hair removal. However, this rule assumes that people with epilepsy all have seizures where they convulse, and this would lead to the laser not being properly applied. It makes a judgement that this risk is sufficient to prevent someone with epilepsy undergoing this treatment. But if the risks are explained and accepted by the person with epilepsy, then we do not believe a ban is appropriate.

In many cases, even people who can prove that they are unlikely to have a seizure will have to provide a letter from their doctor to support this. We believe this is unnecessary.

Case study

One person who contacted us after being refused a laser hair removal session is Claire from Cardiff. Claire explained what had happened: “I was told that I would not be treated when I turned up for a laser hair removal session. I had been before but since then my seizures had increased. This was the most embarrassing, upsetting experience and I felt extremely discriminated against. “I was refused the treatment despite the fact that I had my mother with me for support and safety purposes 'just in case'. More importantly, I explained to the clinical staff that laser treatment did not affect my epilepsy as I am not photosensitive. This was backed up by a letter from my consultant which they had requested before they initially began any of my sessions. “I was sent home crying, and because I was so embarrassed and upset, I asked for a refund for the sessions that had not been used. This request was declined, despite a formal letter being sent to the manager of the establishment. I feel I have really been discriminated against.”

Challenging the myth

A person with epilepsy can be denied access to a service if it is potentially hazardous to their own, or another person’s, health and safety. There would also have to be no reasonable adjustment that could be made to make delivery of the service safe.

If possible, contact the service provider in advance of your appointment to discuss your epilepsy. You should explain what happens before, during and after your seizure, the frequency of your seizures or how long you have been seizure free. It might also be helpful to explain your seizure pattern (for example, if you only have them at night, or on waking).

This information will give the service provider the opportunity to consider whether reasonable adjustments are required to make a service safe. This is a requirement outlined in the Equality Act and Disability Discrimination Act. Contacting the service provider before your visit gives them time to make the reasonable adjustments required. For example if you are going for a massage, there are specific oils that should be avoided. The service provider can make sure that more appropriate oils are available before your visit.  
If you are wrongly denied access to a service, there are other things that you can do. For example, you could show the service provider a copy of our position statement on cosmetic and beauty therapies. This statement briefly explains the laws that protect you from disability discrimination.

As a next step you could use this template letter to further explain that you believe that you have been discriminated against because of your epilepsy.

Some beauty chains have told Epilepsy Action that they can’t offer laser hair removal to people with epilepsy because of manufacturer guidelines. We understand this position, from a safety and legal point of view. We have taken this issue up with the manufacturers of some of the leading laser hair devices. We continue to challenge this advice with manufacturers, providers and the organisations who regulate them.

Read all the myths we've busted during National Epilepsy Week

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Comments: read the 9 comments or add yours

Comments

I have had a type of epilepsy resulting from surgery for a subarachnoid haemorrhage. Today I tried a leading brand laser hair removal and felt significantly unwell all day. Notably, I have had no seizures for 40 years yet today was the first time I felt at risk and became quite anxious by the treatments side effects. Inside one of the booklet it tells you not to use this product if you have epilepsy. However, I was not informed of this fact at point of sale. Consequently, I felt obliged to raise awareness as to how this treatment personally affected me.

Submitted by Glynis on

Hi Glynis
We are aware that certain cosmetic treatments advise against their use for a person with epilepsy. But, as you can see from our position statement, it is important that any risk is assessed individually. For people with controlled epilepsy laser hair removal should be fine.

I do hope you’re feeling better now.

Regards
Cherry
Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by Cherry, Epileps... on

My daughter took me for a facial today and I had a petit mal fit why

Submitted by anita on

Hi Anita
We aren’t aware of facials triggering seizures in people. But there are many other reasons why someone may have a seizure. Have a look at our information on possible seizure triggers. This may give you some ideas.
 
Regards
 
Cherry  
Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by Cherry, Epileps... on

Hi,
I have followed this site for quiet some years now, on the grounds of helping myself understand it more so due to my partners health.
I had actually challenged a sunbed shop on the grounds of discrimination because his seizures are controlled using medication, but will come on at random. Thankfully, we have controlled this now by cutting out drinking alcohol, and extremely high caffeine including energy drinks - his longest stint has been 3 years and 3 months, He had a relapse due to high caffeine, and now takes his medication 12 hours apart (7am and 7pm) This information about taking meds was found somewhere upon this site.
However, I had downloaded the template and used this to push for fairness in the sunbed shop and thankfully they have modified there "If your epileptic you wont be able to use our tanning" they have a more wide open mind on seizures and have been educated more so.
Our frustration was based on the grounds of
"If your allowed back on the roads after 1 year from taking poorly, but banned for life from a sunbed shop? isnt exactly fair"
When regional manager from the business got involved she had point blank refused until I took all evidence to her and proved the many different types of epileptics there is really opened her eyes quiet some.
Now, my partner has been welcomed back give a formal apology with extra free minutes :-)
A month later I felt the need to "resign back up as a fake" and register myself a epileptic just to make sure that this had went forward (Yeah it maybe wrong but I like to see things have changed for everybody not just one person)
Thankfully, Everything has been put into place and they are extremely more friendly now than ever before.
I did cancel the fake membership and told them why, they were fantastic with it!

Kevin

Submitted by Kevin on

Hi Team

I suffer from absence seizures but haven't had one in over five years. I came off my medication a year and a half ago and have been fine since. A year ago I decided to give laser hair removal a try at the Skn Clinic in Canary Wharf. The clinic asked me to sign a waiver and were then happy to provide the treatment, which worked really well with no side effects.

I've recently paid for laser hair removal at Boutique Spa in Fitzrovia but this company has requested that I provide a doctors letter saying I'm medically well enough to have the treatment. I didn't feel this was necessary but they were insistent they wouldn't provide any treatment without the letter. Having spoken to my doctors surgery they now want me to pay £30 before they are willing to provide a letter. I feel like I'm being penalised by both the clinic and my doctors surgery. Surely if I feel well enough to have the treatment and I'm willing to bear any risks this should be enough for the clinic. I'm not sure what to do now. Any help would be appreciated.

Kind regards

Shamila

Submitted by Shamila on

Hello Shamila 

We do not believe that you should need to get a letter from your doctor before you can have laser hair treatment. There is no evidence to suggest that it is unsafe for people who have epilepsy to have it.

Often one of the key concerns of the providers is that the flashing of the laser could cause someone to have a seizure. This is untrue. Also, another concern is often stated about the units having a power light to indicate that they are on. This is unlikely to cause a person who has photosensitive epilepsy to have a seizure as the light flickers at a rate that should not be a trigger.

We have two pieces of information on our website which may be informative for you and support you to challenge this situation. These are our mythbuster on cosmetic and beauty treatments and also our position statement on cosmetic and beauty treatments. Although you will see they are dated from 2013 and 2011, they still represent our position on these.

A  person who has epilepsy should be treated equally. Unless they ask every person with a medical condition to provide a doctors letter before treatment it is possible it could be discrimination. The mythbuster I have linked you to above tells you more about challenging this and includes a link to a template letter which may be useful for you. 

Karen

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by rich on

Hi my name is Victoria
Today I had an appointment for laser hair removal, and I was denied service due to having epilepsy. Mind you just about a year ago I had laser treatment at another facility and every appointment was fine my eyes were covered never seen flashes or anything. I only changed facilities because the price was cheaper. The assists asked her boss and they said no it couldn't not be done. I asked to speak to the manager and she just sat there picking her nails as I explained to her that I had done this a year ago no problems she said , well then go back there. As I walked out she said " but we can do a facial" I said " fuck your facial, do you think I'm gonna give you my business after you deny laser treatment." I asked about getting my money back and they said I had to call a 800 number. It was the most embarrassing moment in my life. Never have I ever felt so uncomfortable, nor have have I ever felt different til today. I'm so mad and upset. I didn't cry all day until now that I'm writing this.

Submitted by Victoria on

I am medicated and I have had ALL types of seizures there are from myclonic to clonic tonic, and my most common absence seizures. I have never had one when I had laser done. I actually have never seen the light people have claimed triggers the seizure because my laser aesthetician says to keep my eyes close during the procedure. I should see this light due to my skin colour and the type of machine they're using which makes the light flashes stronger. I think an option for some of the ladies is----if there might be some sort of problem is to get those suntan bed goggles to protect from the lights.

Submitted by vaberella on