Laser Hair Removal
What is Laser Hair Removal and How Does it Work?
Laser hair removal has become one of the most common cosmetic procedures performed in North America. Laser hair removal involves the use of a laser device that directs a beam of highly concentrated and specific light toward the skin. Various types of lasers can be used for hair removal – the most common of which are alexandrite, diode and neodymium YAG. The light is tailored to be preferentially absorbed by the dark-coloured pigment in the hair follicle. The absorption of the light heats the hair follicle, disabling the part involved in recurrent hair growth. Hairs on the body cycle through three phases of growth over a period of several months, and only part of each person’s hairs are in the growth phase at any given time. Only hairs in the active growth phase are susceptible to becoming disabled by laser light, and consequently, a series of treatments are required in order to reduce most of the hairs in the desired treatment area.
Who is a good candidate?
People of all skin color can be treated with a laser for hair removal. The best results are generally achieved in people with fair skin and dark hair. Individuals with darker skin can have laser hair removal treatment, but generally require lasers with longer wavelengths. Tanned skin should not be treated until the tan has faded. Currently there is no way for lasers to remove grey, white, or blonde hair.
How should I prepare for laser hair removal?
Prior to having laser hair removal, thoroughly check the credentials of the physician or technician performing the procedure. Once you have the proper comfort level with the clinic where you are going to have the procedure performed, you will schedule an appointment. It is important that the area to be treated is not tanned at the time of treatment, and the hairs should be trimmed with scissors or shaved 1-2 days before treatment.
What happens during a laser treatment?
The laser settings will be adjusted according to your skin color, color and thickness of the hair and the location of the hair. Depending on the laser or light source used, both the patient and the technician will wear appropriate eye protection, to prevent the laser light from penetrating into the eyes, which can result in vision damage. The area to be treated should be clean and dry. Again, depending on the laser or light source, either a cold gel or a special cooling device will be used to protect the outer layers of the skin. This also helps the laser light penetrate further into the skin. The laser treatment itself feels like a snapping, stinging sensation. Most patients tolerate the procedure well. Some areas of the body may be more sensitive that others, and topical anesthetic creams can be applied to the skin prior to laser treatment in order to minimize discomfort.
What should I expect after laser treatment?
Immediately after the treatment, the area is slightly red and swollen. This is “normal,” and should disappear over the next 12-24 hours, in most cases, but occasionally can last up to several days. Most people can return to normal activity right away. Make-up can be applied to the treated area, as long at there is no crusting of the skin. Occasionally some people may have minor brown scabbing which is temporary and will pass in a few days. There may be a small residue of the hair left in the follicle, which appears as a dark spot. This residue hair is usually shed within one or two weeks. Generally 10-20% of the dark hairs are permanently removed with each treatment, and 80-90% of the hairs will re-grow within 4-12 weeks, depending on the site that has been treated. When re-growth is noted, another laser treatment is performed. After a series of treatments, some individuals will see long-term hair removal which may last for many years. Others may require maintenance treatments over time to maintain their degree of hair loss. It is truly impossible to determine in advance who will require how many treatments and how long the hair will remain gone.
How will I care for the treated area?
After the treatment ice or gel packs, special aloe gels or anti-inflammatory creams can be applied to the area to decrease redness and swelling. The area can be washed with a gentle cleanser and water, and an antibiotic cream should be applied to any crusted sites twice a day for 5-7 days. Most importantly, the treated area must be protected from the sun for 4 weeks following treatment.
What are potential complications with laser hair removal?
As with any cosmetic treatment, complications can occur with laser hair removal. With laser hair removal, redness and swelling around the hair follicle are “normal” events seen after treatment. On occasion, pain and discomfort may occur which can be treated with over-the-counter pain medicines. Excessive pain during the procedure should be brought to the laser operator’s attention immediately, so laser settings may be adjusted. Other adverse events, although rare, may be seen and should be reported immediately to the physician in charge. These include blisters and burns, which are more likely to occur if treatment is preformed on tanned skin or if one goes into the sun immediately after the procedure. Blisters and burns, although rare, may lead to either too much or too little pigment remaining in the skin, conditions known as hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentation. And even rarer, true scarring can result, with raised red scars known as hypertrophic scars and keloids.
All patients should be warned of these risks prior to laser hair removal procedures and all facilities should be well versed in how to handle these complications.