What is LASER hair removal and how does it work?
LASER hair removal, or reduction, refers to the permanent reduction of unwanted hair by the use of various forms of LASER and light energy. The specific type of LASER or light energy used depends on the type of hair (coarse or fine) as well as the skin type and color of the individual seeking LASER hair removal. Longer wavelengths of light are used to treat darker skin types and coarser hair. Shorter wavelengths of light are used to treat lighter skin types as well as finer hair. In either case, melanin, the brown pigment of the hair and skin serves as the chromophore, or target, of the LASER or light energy. When the hair follicle is in the active phase of growth, the melanin in the hair attracts and absorbs the LASER energy, drawing it down the shaft to the bulb and bulge of the hair follicle. This is the area that contains the stem cells and nourishment responsible for new hair growth. As the light energy is absorbed, it is converted to heat. The heat produced kills the bulb and bulge, the hair follicle becomes nonviable and cannot regenerate hair.
The two technologies used widely today for “Laser hair removal” are traditional single wavelength LASERs as well as Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) devices. The difference is in the spectrum and wavelength of light energy delivered. IPL devices are usually less painful and as effective as LASERs for hair removal and can be used on most skin types. For darker skin types, 1064 YAG Laser is the safest device available today.
Who is a candidate for LASER hair removal?
Melanin is the target chromophore for LASER hair removal. A significant amount of melanin must be present in the hair for LASER hair removal to be effective. Therefore, darker, coarser hair will respond much better to LASER than fine, light colored hair. Because the skin also contains melanin, the amount of melanin in the skin tissue will affect one’s candidacy for LASER hair removal, although not as much as it did in the past.
Years ago, LASERs to treat darker skin colors such as African Americans, were not available. The problem was that since the “target” for the LASERs was melanin and melanin was abundant not only in the hair follicles but also the skin layers above the hair follicle, the skin was also “targeted” by these LASERs and thus the skin was “burnt” in darker skin patients.
However now we have the most advanced technology which allows longer wavelength light energy to pass through the skin to the deeper layers where the hair follicles reside and in this way, effective hair removal is performed without any trauma to the actual skin even in the darkest of skin colors!
The “best candidate” is still a light skinned person with coarse dark hair but now like never before, we can effectively and with very little pain treat all skin colors and most hair colors and types. Very fine “villous” type blond hair and white hair are still best treated with Electrolysis.
Prior to treatment, patients are advised to avoid tanning and sunless tanners for several weeks before LASER hair removal and during the full course of treatment. Broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreens containing zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide should be used. No plucking, waxing, or electrolysis should be done, although shaving may be continued during treatment. The site to be treated should be shaved one to two days prior to laser treatment. On the day of treatment, the area should be clean and free of cosmetics. A topical anesthetic cream may be applied an hour prior to treatment. Such creams are available for purchase at The Naderi Center.
Following each LASER hair removal session, the treated area should be kept cool. Avoid hot showers, baths, steam rooms, etc. Avoid vigorous activity that may increase body heat, as well. Ice cold wash cloths can be used to further cool the skin post-treatment but direct ice contact should be avoided. Aloe vera can also be used to keep the skin cool and lubricated if not allergic. Keep the treated area protected from the sun by using sunblock and by avoiding indoor and outdoor tanning.
Possible side effects of LASER hair removal
Side effects of laser hair removal treatments may include pain, peri-follicular edema (swelling around the hair follicle due to excessive fluid), and erythema (redness and inflammation) lasting one to three days. Blistering, herpes simplex outbreaks, and bacterial infections also can occur but are very rare. Temporary skin lightening or darkening, especially in darker skin types, or in patients with a recent tan, may be seen. Permanent skin pigment change or scarring is extremely rare with our ultra modern 1064 YAG Lasers and IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) machines. If any of the above last for more than 3 days, make sure to contact your Licensed Laser Technician &/or doctor. Loss of freckles or lightening of moles in the treatment area may occur.
The percentage of hair removed per session varies in different body locations. Areas with thin skin (for example, bikini and armpits) generally show a better response than areas with thick skin (for example, the back and chin). Approximately 10-25 percent reduction in hair growth can be expected with each treatment. Treatments are repeated every four to eight weeks. Six or more treatments are often needed and thereafter yearly “booster” treatments may be necessary. In either case, the hair that may re-grow tends to be lighter and finer in texture drastically decreasing your need for waxing, shaving, or plucking!