Laser hair removal is one of the most commonly performed cosmetic procedures in the U.S. It beams highly concentrated light into hair follicles. Pigment in the follicles absorb the light which then destroys the hair.
Lasers are useful for removing unwanted hair from the face and body, including the legs, arms, underarms, bikini line, and other more sensitive intimate areas.
Precision. Lasers can selectively target dark, coarse hairs while leaving the surrounding skin undamaged.
Predictability. Most patients have permanent hair loss after an average of three to seven sessions.
Speed. Each pulse of the laser takes a fraction of a second. These laser pulses treat many hairs at the same time. The laser can treat an area approximately the size of a quarter every second. Small areas such as the upper lip can be treated in less than a minute. Large areas, such as the back or legs, may take up to an hour.
The primary principle behind laser hair removal is selective photothermolysis (SPTL). SPTL is the matching of a specific wavelength of light and pulse duration to obtain optimal effect on a targeted tissue with minimal effect on surrounding tissue. Lasers can cause localized damage by selectively heating dark target matter, melanin, in the area that causes hair growth, the follicle, while not heating the rest of the skin. Light is absorbed by dark objects, so laser energy can be absorbed by dark material in the skin, but with much more speed and intensity. This dark target matter, or chromophore, can be naturally occurring or artificially introduced.
A chromophore is the part of a molecule responsible for its color.
Melanin is considered the primary chromophore for all laser hair removal devices currently on the market. Melanin occurs naturally in the skin, and gives skin and hair their color. There are two types of melanin in hair. Eumelanin gives hair brown or black color, while pheomelanin gives hair blonde or red color. Because of the selective absorption of photons of laser light, only black or brown hair can be removed. Laser hair removal works best with dark coarse hair. Light skin and dark hair are an ideal combination. Laser hair removal procedures performed on this combination are most effective and producing the best results. New laser hair removal devices are now able to target black hair in patients with dark skin with some success.
Electrolysis is another hair removal method that has been used for over 135 years. Unlike laser epilation, electrolysis can be used to remove 100% of the hair from an area. It is effective on hair of all colors when proper technique is used. More hair may grow in certain areas that are prone to hormone-induced growth (e.g. a woman’s chin and neck) based on individual hormone levels or changes in hormonal status. Another determining factor in hair regrowth is genetic pre-disposition.
Laser hair removal is more than just ”zapping” unwanted hair. It is a medical procedure that requires training to perform and carries potential risks. Before getting laser hair removal, you should thoroughly check the credentials of the doctor or technician performing the procedure.
If you are planning on undergoing laser hair removal, you should limit plucking, waxing, and electrolysis for six weeks before treatment. That’s because the laser targets the hairs’ roots, which are temporarily removed by waxing or plucking.
You should also avoid sun exposure for six weeks before and after treatment. Sun exposure makes laser hair removal less effective and makes complications after treatment more likely.
Some level of pain should be expected during treatments. Numbing creams are available at most clinics, sometimes for an additional cost.
People most commonly report that on the areas of face and body that are not intimate areas laser hair removal feels like, “many continuous snaps of a rubber band.” The intimate areas will be more painful. Many clinicians apply a topical numbing (anesthetic) cream to the area 15-25 minutes prior to the procedure to reduce pain.
Some normal side effects may occur after laser hair removal treatments. The most common side effects include itching, pink skin, redness, and swelling around the treatment area or swelling of the follicles. These side effects rarely last more than two or three days. The two most common serious side effects are acne and skin discoloration.
Unwanted side effects such as hypo- or hyper-pigmentation or, in extreme cases, burning of the skin call for an adjustment in laser selection or settings. Risks include the chance of burning the skin or discoloration of the skin, hypo-pigmentation (white spots), flare of acne, swelling around the hair follicle (considered a normal reaction), scab formation, purpura, and infection. These risks can be reduced by treatment with an appropriate laser type used at appropriate settings for the individual’s skin type and treatment area.
Some patients may show side effects from an allergy to either the hair removal gel used with certain laser types or to a numbing cream, or to simply shaving the area too soon in relation to the treatment.
Results of laser hair removal vary greatly from person to person, and might depend on what area of the body or face is treated.
Multiple treatments can prolong the duration of hair loss — up to years in some cases — but hair regrowth is still possible. For best results, you might need four to six treatments spaced around six weeks apart. Additional periodic maintenance treatments — perhaps once every six to 12 months — might be needed as well.
This information is not intended as medical advice. It is also not intended to be used to diagnose or treat medical conditions. Consult an appropriate licensed medical professional or aesthetic laser technician prior to making any decisions regarding laser hair removal.