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
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.
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.