During laser hair removal, a laser beam passes through the skin to an individual hair follicle. The intense heat of the laser damages the hair follicle, which inhibits future hair growth.Laser hair removal is a medical procedure that uses a laser — an intense, pulsating beam of light — to remove unwanted hair.
Laser hair removal is most effective for people who have light skin and dark hair.
Although laser hair removal effectively slows hair growth, it doesn't guarantee permanent hair removal. It typically takes several laser hair removal treatments to provide an extended hair-free period. Periodic maintenance treatments might be needed as well.
How it Works
Laser hair removal works by using light energy to permanently disable the hair follicle. The laser light selectively targets hair follicles while leaving other tissue untouched.
Since hair grows in cycles, several treatments are required. At any one time, 50% to 80% of hair follicles are in the active growth phase and will be disabled by the laser. As the remaining dormant hairs begin to grow, those hairs should to be treated at a later date.
The hair will become finer, thinner, and lighter after each treatment.
For women, laser hair removal is rapidly becoming the treatment of choice for facial hair and bikini lines.
For men and women, because the laser treats multiple hair follicles at a time, laser treatments are also very convenient for large areas of the body, including underarms, the back, shoulders, legs, arms...
How you prepare
If you're interested in laser hair removal, choose a doctor who's board certified in a specialty such as dermatology or cosmetic surgery and has experience with laser hair removal. If a physician's assistant or licensed nurse will do the procedure, make sure a doctor supervises and is available on-site during the treatments. Be cautious about spas, salons or other facilities that allow nonmedical personnel to do laser hair removal.
Before laser hair removal, schedule a consultation with the doctor. The doctor will use this visit to:
- Review your medical history, including medication use
- Discuss risks, benefits and expectations, including what laser hair removal can and can't do for you
- Take photos to be used for before-and-after assessments and long-term reviews
At the consultation, be sure to discuss a treatment plan and related costs. Laser hair removal is typically an out-of-pocket expense.
The doctor will also offer specific tips to prepare for laser hair removal. For example:
- Stay out of the sun. A tan increases the risk of side effects, such as skin lightening. If you have a tan — either from sun exposure or sunless tanning products — wait until the tan fades completely before undergoing laser hair removal. Some doctors recommend staying out of the sun for up to six weeks before laser hair removal.
- Avoid plucking, waxing and electrolysis. These hair removal methods can disturb the hair follicle and interfere with laser hair removal. Shaving is OK, however, since it preserves the hair shaft and follicle. In fact, shaving might even be recommended. Some studies suggest that shaving before laser hair removal improves results.
During the procedure
The doctor will press a hand-held laser instrument to your skin. Depending on the type of laser, a cooling device on the tip of the instrument or a cool gel might be used to protect your skin.
When the doctor activates the laser, the laser beam will pass through your skin to the tiny sacs (follicles) where hair growth originates. The intense heat from the laser beam damages the hair follicles, which inhibits hair growth. Some discomfort in the skin is possible, and you'll likely feel a sensation of cold from the cooling device or gel.
Treating a small area, such as the upper lip, might take only a few minutes. Treating a larger area, such as the back, might take several hours.
After the procedure
You might notice redness and swelling for the first few hours after laser hair removal.
To reduce any discomfort, apply ice to the treated area. Your doctor might also suggest an aloe gel or other type of cream or lotion, as well as over-the-counter pain relievers. If you have a skin reaction immediately after laser hair removal, the doctor might apply a steroid cream to the affected area.
After laser hair removal, avoid sun exposure — both natural sunlight and tanning beds. When your skin has healed, use sunscreen whenever you're in the sun.
You might also prepare yourself for possible hair shedding in the first few weeks after treatment. Don't mistake this for hair regrowth
Laser hair removal doesn't guarantee permanent hair removal. Some hair could be resistant to the laser treatment or grow again after treatment — although the new hair growth might be finer and lighter in color.
The most common side effects of laser hair removal include:
- Skin irritation. Temporary discomfort, redness and swelling are possible after laser hair removal. Any signs and symptoms typically disappear within several hours.
- Pigment changes. Laser hair removal might darken or lighten the affected skin, usually temporarily. Skin lightening primarily affects those who have darker skin, especially if an incorrect laser is used at an incorrect setting.
Rarely, laser hair removal can cause blistering, crusting, scarring or other changes in skin texture.
Laser hair removal isn't recommended for the eyelid or surrounding area, due to the possibility of severe eye injury.
Frequently Asked Questions:
How many times will I have to get treatments?The number of sessions will vary for each individual, but 3 to 5 treatments are usually required; some applications may require more. It depends on the area or areas you wish to have treated and your hair's density, thickness, and growth cycle.
Who are the best candidates for laser hair removal?In general, the best results are achieved in individuals with dark hair (or dark hair roots) and a light skin color. This is because the laser light energy is absorbed by the pigment melanin in the skin, and is then transformed into heat to disable the hair follicle.
In people with dark skin (more melanin in the skin), the melanin in the skin tends to compete with the hair for the light energy resulting in the potential for the laser damaging the skin instead of the intended hair follicle.Emerging laser technologies have made it possible for people with many skin and hair color combinations to enjoy the benefits of laser hair removal. These lasers have been designed to ignore the melanin in the skin and to safely treat patients of all skin types.
Having said that, the most successful results are those patients with dark hair and light skin-- light skinned, dark haired patients will have a more significant result than patients with blond or red hair or patients with darker skin and will need fewer treatments for a more permanent hair reduction.
How is it different from electrolysis?It's gentler - no needles are used. And it's much faster. Electrolysis involves applying an electrical current through a needle into one hair follicle at a time. With laser hair removal, instead of treating one individual hair follicle at a time, within minutes, all the hairs in the laser's beam are treated.
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