Government plans to drop the regulation of lasers used by beauty salons for cosmetic treatments, such as the removal of wrinkles, hair and tattoos, would pose a serious risk to patients' health, doctors said yesterday.

Leading cosmetic surgeons said that the proposals, set out by the Department of Health, would allow anyone without qualifications to start using lasers and other light techniques.

Hundreds of salons in England use lasers for treating lines and wrinkles, removing hair and eliminating tattoos and birthmarks.

Another technique, intense pulsed light (IPL), is used for removing hair from larger areas such as the back or the legs.

IPL sources deliver powerful beams of light and infra-red radiation to the skin through a handpiece. The wave-lengths are chosen so that they are absorbed by the dark pigments in hair, causing damage to the follicle while leaving the rest of the skin undamaged. The light is delivered in short pulses. The technique can also be used to remove red veins.

Until now, salons using these techniques had to be registered with the Healthcare Commission, which is responsible for ensuring that they are used safely. Salons are also required to take professional advice on the precautions needed.

But in a report on easing the burden of regulation, the department said that these rules were "not proportionate to the risk of harm to the patient".

It proposes to abolish the need to register and allow anyone to use lasers and pulsed lights without advice, regulation or inspection.

The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons reacted angrily yesterday, saying that deregulation was being driven not by clinicians but by people who knew nothing about it.

"This suggestion is nonsense," Douglas McGeorge, a consultant plastic surgeon who is president of the association, said.

"If it is implemented, it will open it up to anybody to get hold of one of these devices and start using it. Lasers can damage the eyes, so the premises where they are used have always been inspected.

"Lasers can also cause burns and scarring if improperly used. Sooner or later patients will suffer as a result of these political moves and the Government will have to take responsibility for its actions."

However, Ben Bradshaw, the Health Minister, said: "I am satisfied that the changes proposed are consistent with the risk-based approach to regulation we envisage in our wider and longer-term system reforms, whilst continuing to ensure that providers in this sector meet appropriate standards of quality and safety."

Lasers and pulsed light sources are a booming sector of the beauty industry, but some patients have complained that they have been injured by them.

Which?, the Consumers' Association magazine, has in the past complained that in Scotland, where there has been no requirement to register with the Care Commission, the healthcare regulator, many people have been put at risk.

Frances Blunden, health campaigner for Which?, said last year that she was aware of a number of people who had been badly burnt, scarred or blistered when having laser hair removal.

"This is serious equipment with serious effects if used incorrectly," she said. "Our view is that these clinics should be regulated."

Yesterday Which? declined to comment on the new proposals, saying that its policy team needed time to read the documents fully. But in the past it has argued that more, not less, regulation is needed.

Consultation closes on June 10. If approved, the changes will be incorporated into the Health Care Regulations 2001 as amendments.

Mr McGeorge said that his association would be responding forcefully. "In an environment where clinicians are asking for tighter regulations it is absurd that politicians, who know very little about the limitations and complications of such treatments, should seek to deregulate further," he said.

Mr Bradshaw says that the changes are needed before the introduction in April next year of a single regulator that will combine the Healthcare Commission, the Commission for Social Care Inspection and the Mental Health Act Commission.

"Certain changes to the current regulatory system for private and voluntary healthcare are needed earlier to ensure that we can continue to regulate the independent healthcare effectively during the run-up to these wider changes," he says in a letter on the department's website.

The same proposal also suggests that some IVF clinics should cease to be regulated by the Healthcare Commission, requiring only licences to operate from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.