The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK)
Fat removal with ultrasound performed in beauty care is a pregnancy risk
According to a recent survey, ultrasound machines are commonly used in beauty care. Most of the procedures are safe when done correctly. However, fat removal performed with a high-power device (so-called ultrasonic cavitation) is potentially dangerous for the customer. The procedure must particularly not be performed during pregnancy. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK) consider that there should be more control on the use of ultrasound in beauty care. Without realising it, service providers might use high-power devices in a way that puts the health of the customer at risk.
The aim of ultrasonic cavitation is to break down fat tissue using ultrasound and expel the fat from the body through the metabolism. Around 100 enterprises have been estimated to carry out these procedures in Finland. In the cavitation, the ultrasound might penetrate to body at the depth of up to several dozens of centimetres. This might expose the customer's bones, internal organs and, in case of pregnancy, the foetus to the ultrasound. For instance, the ultrasound might cause damage to blood vessels and the nervous system and cause infections and bleeding in tissues. The substances stored in the fat tissue might also pose a risk to the health of the treated person, breastfed infant or foetus as the matter is released and migrates in the body as a result of the procedure.
Cancer and prenatal screenings are safe
Services provided in beauty care must not be confused with medical ultrasounds where ultrasound is used for cancer screening and prenatal screening, for instance. These examinations cause no harm to the health of the patient or the foetus. The devices used in prenatal screening, for example, have much lower power than the devices used in cavitation. Moreover, medical ultrasounds are always planned specifically for each situation so as not to cause any harm.
In connection with the overall revision of the Radiation Act, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health is proposing limit values to the exposure to ultrasound used for non-medical purposes. The limit values would improve the safety of customers in services in beauty care. The limit values would also enable more efficient monitoring of the potentially risky ultrasound procedures.
The currently published survey on limiting exposure to ultrasound is a compilation of research data of the health impacts of cosmetic procedures performed with ultrasound and presents the international recommendations on limiting exposure. Similar surveys regarding the health effects of cosmetic procedures performed with ultrasound have also been conducted in other countries, including the United States, Germany and Great Britain. The survey presents a proposal on limiting non-medical ultrasound exposure in the upcoming Radiation Act.
The survey was conducted by Tim Toivo, Pasi Orreveteläinen, Sami Kännälä and Tommi Toivonen (STUK publications STUK-TR 24/March 2017).
Mikko Paunio, Ministerial Counsellor, Health/Medical Affairs, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, tel. +358 2951 63312
Tommi Toivonen, Head of Laboratory, STUK, tel. +358 9 759 88 660