Laser hair removal

There is nothing attractive about unwanted hair; and shaving every day can be tiring and unrealistic. This is why so many people are now turning to alternative hair removal treatments for help. To date, there is only one permanent form of hair removal and that is electrolysis. With that being said, electrolysis takes several treatments for permanent removal and each session can be very painful. Another alternative, though not permanent, does give good results and can last well over a month – it’s called laser hair removal, and according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, it was the third most common non-surgical cosmetic treatment in 2016.

What is Laser hair removal?

The medical community actually has quite an extensive history with laser therapy that dates back to the 1960’s. During this time, lasers were not used for hair removal, but were used as cutting tools during surgery. Since then, they have also been used in a variety of cosmetic treatments to treat skin problems including sun damage, thread veins, and even acne.

Scientific studies on the idea of using laser to remove unwanted hair date back to the early 1990’s, but it was not until 1996 that the first laser hair removal machine was approved in America. Since then, there have been significant developments in the area and many new forms of laser machines have been developed (including laser and intense pulsed light, and light heat energy devices). Such devices use a light source to generate heat and destroy hair follicles. The result is disrupted hair growth that leads to a ‘permanent reduction’ of hair.

How does it work?

Lasers are high energy beams of light that can transfer energy through the skin. They can travel to specific parts of the body, targeting different tissues with varying strengths. In terms of hair removal, specialized equipment can be used to generate specific wavelengths of light. These wavelengths can then target the hair follicles, heating them at the base. In return, this damages the cells that are responsible for hair growth. After enough damage is done, the hair will stop growing completely.

Laser hair removal works best when your hair is in the ‘anagen’ or ‘active’ phase of growth. This is the phase when new hairs are beginning to grow and the cells are more prone to damage from the light treatment. The length of this phase varies from person to person and is predetermined by genetics.

What should you expect during treatment?

  • A discussion to go over your expectations of treatment and any risks associated with it. Your practitioner should also discuss your medical and health history before proceeding with treatment
  • Safety glasses will be provided to protect your eyes from the light
  • A cooling treatment may be applied
  • A small handheld machine will be used to deliver light into your skin

How long is a session? How many treatments will I need?

Because your first treatment session will not damage all of the follicles, multiple treatment sessions are usually required. Depending on the size of the targeted area, treatments can take anywhere from 10 minutes to 1 hour. Most people need between 2-7 treatments before all of the hair follicles in the area are damaged. Sessions should be spaced out at approximately 4-6 weeks apart.

Is it painful?

Most people describe the procedure as more ‘uncomfortable’ than painful. The lasers are often described to feel like an ‘elastic band snapping at your skin’. It may also produce a slight tingling or stinging sensation. Anaesthetic cream can be applied if the treatment is too uncomfortable.

Is it safe? What risks are involved?

Laser hair removal is considered to be fairly safe, but there are some potential complications that could arise:

  • Treatment could be uncomfortable. This is especially true for those with darker skin tones
  • Following treatment you could notice burning, blistering, scarring, bruising, or swelling
  • Treatment can change the pigment of the skin. This will fade over time, but could take several months before doing so
  • In very rare cases, laser hair removal can cause hair to grow in areas near the treatment site
  • Laser can result in a rare condition known as livedo reticularis where skin becomes mottled
  • Can result in a reaction known as erythema ab igne resulting in marked redness and colouring of the skin

In order to avoid such side effects and reactions, your practitioner may ask you to follow certain guidelines following the procedure. These may include things such as applying antiseptic creams, avoiding sun exposure, and contacting your physician if anything seems unnatural or uncomfortable. It is important to follow the instructions of your practitioner for your own safety, as well as for the success of the treatment.

Is there anyone who should not have laser treatment?

There are over thirty different manufacturers of laser hair machines in the UK alone. This means that there are many different types, some newer and some older. Some newer machines are claimed to be safe for all skin types, but older machines may be limited in who they can treat.

Some clinics may not be able to treat those with ginger, blonde, or white hair, those with darker skin types, or those with suntans. Other individuals, such as those with sensitivity to light-based treatments, those with active infections, or those who are pregnant may not be eligible for such treatment.

Many drugs may also cause photosensitivity, so it is important that you discuss all medical history and medications with your practitioner before beginning. You should also let your practitioner know if you suffer from epilepsy. Some epileptic treatment patients experience what is known as photosensitive epilepsy and may experience an attack when exposed to the lights.

Where can I get laser hair removal?

Laser hair removal should only be performed by a trained professional. Such machines are most commonly used by nurses, surgeons, and doctors, but some newer machines have also been deemed safe to use by beauticians and aestheticians.

Does it work?

Laser hair removal does not claim to provide ‘permanent hair removal’ and there is no scientific research that proves that it does. Rather, laser treatments claim to provide ‘permanent hair reduction’ that will remove hair to a certain degree. So, when considered in these terms, yes, laser hair removal is absolutely successful in what it claims to do and results will generally last from a few weeks to a few months, with regular sessions required to maintain results.