Laser Hair Removal
Laser hair removal is a procedure which removes hair from the body utilizing a long pulse laser. Laser hair removal lasers have been in use since 1997. The laser heat disables follicles from producing hair. Since various hairs will enter their growth cycle at different times, about 6-8 treatments at intervals of 4-6 weeks for the face and 8-10 weeks for the body are necessary to disable most of the follicles in an area.
There are two types of hair removal lasers made by various manufacturers which deliver the most effect results. They are the Alexandrite and Nd:YAG lasers. In order to determine the best laser to use, client skin type and hair color needs to be assessed.
Lasers designed for permanent hair reduction emit wavelengths of light that are absorbed by the pigment in the hair (melanin). If the surrounding skin is lighter than the color of the hair, the energy of the laser is concentrated in the hair shaft, effectively destroying it without affecting the skin or the follicle.
Since lasers target pigment, treatments are most effective on coarse hair because it has a lot of pigment and can absorb a lot of heat. Fine hair cannot absorb much heat.
The ability of the laser device to produce a very narrow bandwidth on a consistent basis is the key to a safe and efficient treatment. While the laser emits a beam that only heats the hair shaft, heat is transmitted from the hair shaft to the surrounding tissue for several milliseconds after the laser pulse. Several lasers possess cooling attachments, which cool the surrounding skin to fully absorb any heat transmitted from the destroyed hair shafts and reduce discomfort.
Intense Pulse Light (IPL) machines are not lasers. These machines use a highly concentrated beam of traditional incoherent light, often in conjunction with a cream or gel, to burn the hair shaft. A serious flaw with these systems is that they lack the laser's ability to produce a selective bandwidth of light that will only affect the hair shaft (selective photothermolysis). IPLs produce a wide bandwidth of light that can heat up all of the surrounding tissue, making it less effective in disabling hair and putting the patient at a higher risk for burns, especially on darker skin.
IPL devices are generally cheaper than laser devices, which is why many clinics choose to use them. Generally, true hair removal lasers (i.e. Alexandrite and ND:Yag types) tend to achieve better and faster results than IPLs.
Shedding of all treated hair should be expected within 2-3 weeks of each treatment. Once the hair sheds, patients should experience a hair-free period for several weeks. Once new hair comes in again, patients should come in for their next session.
Laser hair removal lasers have been in use since 1997 and the Food and Drug Administration approved them for permanent reduction. They disable hair permanently as long as the right type of hair is treated with an appropriate type of laser at effective settings.
Some experts believe a small percentage of people are non-responders to laser hair removal treatments. This has not been confirmed or proven, and reasons are not known. At the same time, it's difficult to judge whether a patient’s lack of results is, in fact, due to being a non-responder. Lack of results could be due to an undetected underlying medical condition or improperly performed treatments.
In essence, it’s difficult to predict results. Results depend on many variables, including type of laser used, how settings are set, underlying causes of the hair growth, the technician’s experience, etc.
In one pulse, laser removes all the hair on a patch of skin the size of a nickel or a quarter. Generally, laser hair removal is not more painful than waxing, though the sensation is different. With each pulse, the feeling resembles a rubber band snapping against the skin for a quick second. Pain is only felt while the laser is hitting the skin and doesn’t last. Most people do not require an anesthetic cream, though one can be prescribed to more sensitive patients. Using anesthetic creams is safest on small areas. It should be noted not feeling any pain during treatments may be an indication that the laser is set too low to produce permanent results.
Some people may experience the following temporary side effects:
Yes. This can be achieved with 3-4 treatments instead of the full course of 6-8 treatments. It’s also a good idea to wait at least 12 weeks between sessions in order to correctly assess the amount of reduction achieved at any point during the course of treatments.
Patients should not wax, epilate, or remove hair with the root using any other hair removal method for at least 4 weeks prior to their first session and throughout their course of treatments. The hair needs to be in place in order to be targeted by laser as laser devices target the pigment in the hair. The area to be treated should be shaved 1 day prior to treatments so that the energy is targeted towards the hair follicle and not wasted on the hair above the skin’s surface. Treating unshaved skin can result in burning of the skin by singed hairs.
Treatments are relatively quick. All hair should shed within 3 weeks following the treatment. Sometimes, shedding doesn’t start until about 10 days after the session. During the shedding phase, hair may look like it’s growing, but it is actually coming out to shed. Exfoliating and/or scrubbing gently in the shower with a loofa can help speed up the shedding process.
After 3 weeks, some patients may see small black dots remain in the hair follicles on some areas. These are commonly referred to as “pepperspots”, which eventually shed on their own. Exfoliating may help speed up the process. Regardless, they will be singed off in the following session. Once the hair sheds, patients should experience a hair-free period for several weeks. Patients should continue treatments until the remaining hairs are too fine for laser to target, or until they’ve reached their desired reduction.
Hair growth in each hair follicle occurs in a cycle. There are three main phases of the hair growth cycle: anagen, catagen, and telogen.
Anagen (active) is the growing phase or when the hair fiber is produced.
Catagen (club hair) is the period of controlled regression of the hair follicle. This phase is when the lower part of the hair stops growing, but does not shed, and the follicle is reabsorbed.
Telogen (tired) is the last of the hair growth cycle. In this resting phase, the old hair falls out in preparation for the development of a new anagen hair.
Normally this cycle of hair production will continue for the duration of the individual's life. However, various factors can influence, promote, and inhibit hair production. The laser best destroys hair when it is in the anagen phase of growth. Thus, patients need multiple treatments in order to disable each batch of hair as it enters the anagen phase of growth. Hair cycle length varies depending on body part.
The causes of excessive hair growth are many and varied, including:
Before starting laser treatments, patients with excessive hair growth on uncommon areas should explore possible underlying medical reasons for it. Hair removal methods can only impact hair that’s currently growing. They cannot prevent the body from developing new hair after treatments are completed. Women with facial male-pattern growth are advised to see an endocrinologist to explore the possibility of PCOS or elevated testosterone levels. Men experiencing excessive growth can get tested for insulin resistance.
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