In general, we try to keep it positive when it comes to discussing competing lasers on the market but we get a lot of calls asking how our lasers compare to $500 and other unbelievably cheap lasers that are advertised on the web. This article is about some of the more questionable lasers that you can find on the web. Professional quality lasers are expensive so there are people have entered the market to try and make a quick buck. After years in the business, we have found that the cheap or "too good to be true" lasers can be grouped into 4 categories.
- Over-priced laser pointers
- Illegal products
- Bold face lies
- Questionable science
1. Under-powered lasers and over-priced laser pointers
In the US, the FDA regulates medical devices including cold lasers that are used to treat health problems. When it comes to lasers, over-the-counter lasers that do not require a doctor's recommendation are limited to 5 mW. It is illegal to sell a product that is not FDA cleared for use on humans with a power more than 5mW (with a few legal exceptions). 5 mW is the power of many laser pointers. Some companies claim that this is enough power and that they get similar results to professional therapy lasers but the truth is in the numbers. A 5 mW will put out a total of 432 joules in 24 hours. This is the same dosage that a class 4 laser puts out in 30 seconds and an average class 3b laser does in 7 minutes. A 12 hour continuous therapy session with 5mW systems puts out less energy in the IR therapy spectrum (780nm to 820nm) than you would get sitting in the sun for 34 minutes (see image left). So, don't pay more than 10 dollars for a 5mW laser, just put on some UVa and UVb sunscreen and sit in the sun.
2. Illegal Products
So what about the more power lasers on ebay and for sale from guys like the "energy healer". These lasers make health claim but are not FDA cleared and are more than 5mW. It is pretty clear cut, these product are illegal and the people selling them are considered "smugglers". The penalty for what they are doing can be up to 30 years in jail. The FDA has put other questionable laser sellers in jail but the FDA is pretty busy so it might take time before they lock up these sellers. The question is "can you really trust the specs and claims from someone who is blatantly breaking U.S. law and how will they service your laser or warn you if you product is unsafe when they are in jail or out of the country."
Currently, much of the legal liability for injury from a laser is associated with the company that holds the FDA clearance for the laser. This is really a key point if things go wrong. If a doctor is using an illegal product and get frivolously sued by a patient (claiming they were hurt by the laser), the doctor is at a very high risk of losing in court. It will probably come up in court that the system is illegal and the defense will not be able to say that the laser was safe or approved by the FDA (when used according to the manufacturer's recommendations).
So, If everything goes well, there is no penalty for using an illegal laser but if something goes wrong, the penalty for buying an illegal product could be losing your license, your practice, and millions of dollars. Often times, these law suits are total nonsense and they are easily dismissed if you are using an FDA approved product according to the manufacturer's recommendations but it can be hard to defend your practice if you are using an illegal product. Most malpractice insurance companies will not cover the use of illegal products in a practice so if you are sued, 100% of the cost of defending your practice could be out of pocket.
We sometimes buy lasers from different manufacturers (including China) to see if they are up to our standards. We recently tested some very low cost "ebay" systems. The image to the left shows the output of a laser that is rated at 520mW from the manufacturer.
On our calibrated test system, we first tested a Thor system. It slightly exceeded it specifcation about 2% as you would expect from a top quality system. Then we measured the low cost import at .378 mW. When I asked them why the do not meet their spec, they responded by saying " Regularly, the output power is lower than the max. If not, long time max output power works, the lifespan of the laser medium will be reduced."
In other words, if they meet their specification, then the laser will not last very long. This is the way some manufacturers and sellers think. Why would you care about meeting the specification for your laser when it is an illegal product anyway. It is just a made up number. When you buy illegal products, you can not trust anything from the actual power to the warranty. In this example, it would cost us more to return the laser than we paid for it so it is a total scam.
3. Bold Face Lies
What about the laser sales websites that claim they sell FDA cleared laser at half the price of typical lasers. The price is just too good to be true. I don't know a nicer way to say that these groups are bold-face lairs. In some cases, the FDA clearance is for cosmetic or surgical use and in some case, they just took the FDA 501c documents from a real laser company and send them out to people even though they are not selling that product or even associated with that product. Once again, this is the kind of blatant abuse that the FDA really hates so it is just a matter of time before they are prosecuted and there is not longer any support for the laser.
Once again, much of the legal liability for the use or misuse of laser is associated with the company that holds the FDA clearance that proved the system was effective and safe. So if a doctor is using a non-FDA cleared product and gets sued by a patient (claiming they were hurt by the laser), they have no clearance paperwork to pass the liability through to the manufacturer so they will take the full liability. Often times, these law suits are total nonsense and they are easily dismissed if you are using an FDA approved product according to the manufacturer's recommendations but it might be hard defend your practice if you are using an illegal product.
4. Questionable Science
There are several different laser companies that distinguish their product using questionable science. One seller that ends up on the top of the Google paid listings is a prime example. They have fake "review" site is a blog that says that most "cold lasers" are scams and their product, the ZPE is the best therapy laser on the market. They advertise their own brand of "cold lasers" in the price range from $600 to $3,200. I found this puzzling since I own a product that looks almost identical to the ZPE. Here is a picture of a laser pointer that I purchased at a convenience store for less than $10 in 1990.
Here is a screen capture from Ebay showing a zero point energy cold lasers selling for 1 penny.
This same product is sold as a therapeutic cold laser for $695.
Here is another scam. Stickers that make lasers more powerful. I hope that I don't even need to go into any details why this is a total scam. If you believe in magic and really need a sticker, I will send some of my kids stickers for free. They will boost the laser performance as much as any stick you can buy for laser enhancement.
Information Encoded Lasers
We have been approached by several people to sell their "encoded" lasers. These product have some mystical property where information is added to the laser beam using some futuristic technology. The first clude is that that this is a scam is that the product looks like a cheap laser pointer with shiny paint. Yes, after hundreds of thousands of hours, engineer have found out how to make 2 machines talk the same language over a laser link. That is relatively easy because engineers defined the language for both the transmitter and receiver but how does has some tiny company learn the language that your cells speak and then build a laser without any microprocessor that can talk to cells. These products claim to add information into the laser beam to send it into your body. This concept might have some validity but it would take some serious engineering to figure it out. If you have that kind of resources, I don't think you should put it into a device that looks like a 10 dollar laser pointer. Of coarse, that little extra "theory" increases the cost the device from around $10 to $500 or more. All we can say is please do your research before purchasing any products based on claims and not on specifications.
Hyper-Super-Mega Marketing based on Questionable Science
Here are some other words like zero point energy that are used to market lasers that have no real meaning. They are purely used to make the lasers sound like it is something special and these words have no scientific research to back up their claims.
- Multiscan Laser
- Photon Laser
- Pulsar Plus Laser
- Scalar Wave
- Quantum Wave
- Zero Point Energy
In an article published on the WALT website by the Gurus of LLLT, Jan Turner and Lars Hode, they address scalar waves by saying: "This is, of course, a complete fabrication, a crackpot theory." Turner and Hode are some of the biggest advocates for laser therapy so they can see how this type of marketing is detrimental to entire industry and they say there is no need for this kind of fabrications when the science is so solid.
In general, there is a inverse relationship between a solid technical product and over-hyped marketing. The greater the hype, the lesser the product. Manufacturer that don't use hyper-marketing to describe their products rely on quality, support, specs and reputation to sell their products and not trickery.
At ColdLasers.Org, we only sell well-established legal products. We sell systems based on concrete factors and specs like wavelengths, power levels, pulsing frequencies, warranties and protocol support. We try to stay away from the hyper-marketing as much as possible. All our products are FDA cleared except for the laser that say animal use only. When you are comparing products, make sure you understand the specs and how they affect the performance before you buy anything and be on the lookout for illegal, hyper-marketed and underpowered systems.