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HomeHealth A-Z Laser Hair Removal
Laser Hair Removal
Laser Hair Removal
The laser passes thru the skin to the hair follicle and the energy in the light is converted to heat, damaging the hair follicle and impairing it's ability to grow.

Laser Hair Removal

Definition

Laser hair removal is a cosmetic procedure that permanently reduces the growth of hair in a selected body area thru the use of laser energy.

Overview of Laser Hair Removal

The FDA approved the first medical laser for hair removal in the mid 1990's. Since that time, the use of lasers for cosmetic hair removal has continued to grow in popularity. The technology has continued to improve as well, providing better results and safer treatments for people of more diverse skin and hair colors. At the onset, laser hair was only for people with dark hair and light skin. The new advancements have made it possible to treat people with darker skin, tanned skin, and blond, gray, or red hair.

Both men and women are searching for effective ways of removing unwanted hair. The most common form of hair removal is shaving, but it is a very temporary method. Many people have tried waxing, but it is painful and the results are temporary as well. Electrolysis is a permanent hair removal option, but it is painful, as well as time-consuming and expensive for large treatment areas. Laser hair removal has become a popular cosmetic procedure because it is able to treat large body areas relatively fast with a minimal amount of pain and long-lasting results.

The human hair has three parts, the base of the hair which contains the hair follicle, the skin shaft, and the hair follicle itself. In order to achieve permanent or long-term hair removal, the hair follicle and base must be destroyed. With shaving or waxing the hair continues to grow because the base is not destroyed. Laser hair removal targets both the base and the hair follicle which prevents the hair from growing back.

Lasers can be used for hair removal because of a principle called Selective Photothermolysis, which is simply using the right wavelength of laser energy in the right amount to damage or destroy only the hair follicles in the treatment area and not the surrounding skin. With laser hair removal, each millisecond pulse of the laser sends a beam of light that travels thru the skin and targets the melanin (pigment) in the hair follicle. The laser passes thru the skin to the hair follicle and the energy in the light is converted to heat, damaging the hair follicle and impairing it's ability to grow.

Laser treatments only affect hair in the active growth stage. The growth cycle of hair has three stages, with the active stage occurring in cycles of two to three month periods. Because not all hair is in the active stage of growth at the same time, a series of laser treatments are necessary to disable all the hair follicles in an area.

Laser hair removal is a cosmetic treatment available to both men and women. Common treatment areas for women are the bikini area, legs, and underarms. Many women also seek treatment for facial areas such as the upper lip, chin, and cheeks. The eyebrow area is usually not recommended because of the close proximity to the eyes. Men often seek laser treatment to remove hair on the back and chest. Many men also choose laser hair removal for facial hair. As some men age they get hair on their ears and this can be treated too.

Patient Criteria

In order to determine if you are a good candidate for laser hair removal, you should schedule a consultation with a dermatologist or trained professional who is experienced in laser hair removal. The doctor will review your medical history, examine your skin type and hair color, assess the thickness and location of hair you want removed, and look for any moles, tattoos, or presence of a tan. Many doctors will not recommend laser treatment for people who smoke, have a history of scarring, allergies, herpes infection, or excessive sun exposure. Based on your examination, the doctor will determine if you are a good candidate for laser hair removal and recommend the appropriate treatment.

Generally, laser hair removal works best for people who have skin that is lighter than their hair. While the ideal candidates have light skin, dark hair, and no tan, technological advances have made laser hair removal possible for various skin and hair types. People with darker or tanned skin may benefit from lasers with longer wavelengths such as the Nd:YAG that can penetrate deeper into the hair follicle. Because laser treatment is not very effective for light hair on light skin, people with light colored hair (red, blond, gray) on light skin are usually better treated with intense pulsed light (IPL) which is a non-laser light.

Choosing a Laser Hair Removal Center

When choosing a laser hair removal center, there are several important questions to ask during the consultation.

  • Is there a board-certified physician on site? A center without the appropriate medical supervision may not be the safest place for a laser procedure.
  • Is this laser FDA approved for my skin type and hair color? A laser may be FDA approved for laser hair removal, but there are many types of lasers. Make sure you are treated with one approved for your skin and hair color.
  • Is the laser equipped with a Dynamic Cooling Device (DCD)? A DCD provides a safe and consistent method of skin cooling for patient safety and comfort.
  • How many patients have you treated? An experienced technician can provide safer and more effective treatment.
  • How many treatments will I need and what results can I expect?

Laser Hair Removal Treatment

Laser hair treatment may cause mild, temporary discomfort, a feeling similar to being snapped by a rubberband. A topical anesthetic may be prescribed which can be applied prior to treatment to lessen the sensation. Following treatment, the treated skin area may become pink or red and look like a mild sunburn. It may take a day or two to go away and the doctor may prescribe a topical cream to apply to the treated skin. Other possible temporary side effects include swelling, blistering, and changes in skin color. A small percentage of patients have experienced permanent scarring and skin color changes. While it is not possible to predict how a patient will respond to treatment, many side effects can be reduced or eliminated by choosing an experienced technician and by using the right laser for your skin color.

Results of Laser Hair Removal

Laser hair removal is an effective method of hair removal with long term results. Results can vary from patient to patient, but overall, laser procedures are reported to remove 60% to 95% of targeted hair after six months of treatment. Some patients have hair that grows back but it is lighter and finer and can be retreated. For other patients, the hair may grow back but it has been converted to vellus hair (peachfuzz) so the visual effects are noticeable. Since the FDA has approved laser hair removal for "permanent reduction" and not "permanent removal" you should be wary of a laser treatment center that claims otherwise. Laser hair removal can provide positive results but it is important to be accurately informed of treatment expectations.

External Resources

American Academy of Dermatology

FDA Consumer Information

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