I lay back in the white leather chair, put on protective glasses and took a deep breath.
"Nervous?" the laser technician asked as she prepared the hair removal machine for our session.
It was my first time and I didn't really know what to expect.
"Little bit," I nodded. "I usually get the hair on my face threaded."
"You'll be fine," she smiled, steadying the laser wand on my chin. "If you have any pain, let me know."
With a bright flash, a searing pain suddenly erupted on my skin. I winced, my body flinching in shock.
"It's a bit different to threading, isn't it," the technician joked, as she continued the zaps.
It hurt more than anything I'd imagined. Was this what every laser recipient goes through?
Worried I'd look like a wuss, I tried to put on a brave face, breathing through the pain with each burning flash of the machine.
By the time she'd moved to the side of my face, my eyes were watering in agony. But no matter how uncomfortable I looked, she didn't stop.
I'd never imagined this would be so painful.
My mum, Christine, and my younger sister Maria had been to this clinic and had dozens of successful treatments, so with their recommendation, I'd decided to give it a shot.
When I'd arrived, I was ushered into the treatment room for a consultation, but instead of inspecting the hair on my face to see what intensity I might need, the technician just got the machine ready.
She's the expert, I'd thought nervously, trying to relax.
But now, I was struggling to make it through the 10-minute session. I was squirming in my chair, clenching my eyes shut.
After what felt like an eternity, it finished.
She rubbed some cooling gel on my skin and sent me quickly to pay.
On my way out, I caught my reflection in a mirror.
My chocolate skin was pink and swollen.
Maybe this is normal? I wondered. But driving home, I couldn't ignore the pain radiating from my face. I could barely concentrate!
I called Mum.
"It shouldn't hurt that much," she told me, worried. "It should just feel like a hot rubber band slapping against your skin."
That wasn't what I'd experienced! It felt like my skin was on fire!
When I got home, Mum recoiled in shock.
"It's like someone has rubbed your face in hot tar," she gasped.
My skin had been so badly burnt that the inflamed area had turned a deep black shade.
Horrified, I called the salon but they didn't answer.
Fearing that they were avoiding my number, Mum called from her phone and they picked up right away.
"Come back and we'll take a look," the receptionist said.
The colour drained from the clinic manager's face as we walked in.
"Oh my God," she gasped, "you've been burnt."
I asked to see the technician who had done this, but she'd rushed home straight after our session.
The manager suggested I try a light treatment over the top of the burns to fix it.
"Whatever you need to do to make it better," I said, holding back tears.
Even that treatment was excruciating. After 10 minutes, my skin started to blister.
"This isn't helping," the manager said, horrified. "You need to go straight to a doctor."
The GP sent me to the ER, where nurses were shocked at the severity of my red, blistered skin.
They transferred me to the special burns unit.
"This is the worst laser burn I've ever seen," the doctor said, shaking his head.
He explained that the healing process would be long and painful, and there were no guarantees my face would ever fully recover.
I was distraught, my body shaking with sobs as Mum comforted me.
The doctor gave me a strict treatment regimen to follow.
I wasn't allowed exposure to any sunlight, not even through a window.
I had to quit my job in customer service because the sun through the windscreen during the 20-minute drive could permanently damage my face even more.
For the first two weeks, my skin blistered ferociously, with pus seeping out of the wounds.
Once the blisters had gone down, I was given a soapy liquid to scrub my skin with, scraping and peeling the burnt flesh away so that new skin could form.
It was agonising.
The new flesh below was bright pink, in stark contrast to my dark complexion.
That's how deep the burns were.
A month later I had to apply a thick gel to keep my skin as moist as possible and avoid scarring.
Over time, being unemployed and living in darkness took its toll and I slipped into a deep depression.
Now, eight months later, the outline of the laser burn is still visible but it's as healed as it ever will be.
The burns have left me insecure and too scared to leave the house without heavy make-up.
I'm telling my story to warn others to do research before undergoing laser treatment, especially if you have darker skin like me.
In Australia, laser hair removal is only regulated in WA, Qld and Tas.
This means that in other states and territories, there are no rules in place to ensure laser technicians are qualified to provide safe treatments.
Unless regulations happen soon, more people will be scarred for life, just like I am.
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