Laser hair removal procedures have been wide spread and gaining in popularity since they became commercially available back in the late 90’s.
Up until the last few years, these procedures have mostly been performed at professional clinics equipped with the specially-designed SPTL (Selective Photo-Thermolysis) lasers required to remove hair safely and effectively.
Home laser treatment equipment is available to the public too. These machines range from $500 – $1000’s. However, quality does vary with these machines however, so proceed with caution if considering this route.
How Laser Hair Removal Works
In the simplest language possible:
A laser projects a specific wavelength of light directly at the dark area of each hair follicle. These dark areas are called melanin, the protein that makes up the color in hair. The laser targets the melanin and heats the entire hair follicle without touching any skin.
As the follicle is heated, the root is destroyed and the hair falls out. After 3 – 5 sessions, hair loss is often permanent.
Hair Types That Benefit From Laser Removal
Laser treatments aren’t for everyone, or for every type of hair. For instance, light colored hair of any kind will not respond to the laser, since it requires dark-colored melanin in order to focus their wavelength of light on.
In general, brown or black hairs, on relatively light-colored skin will benefit. Blond, white, or gray hairs on any part of the body can’t be removed with a laser. In these cases, electrolysis treatment is the next-best and most long-term, effective method to remove hair. Unfortunately, electrolysis is a very painful procedure next to laser, which is very mild in comparison.
Choosing a Doctor
Laser treatments cost hundreds of dollars to perform, and you’ll have to go back to whomever you choose an average of 4 times, perhaps more, before your hair loss is permanent. A qualified and reputable facility can limit the number of visits needed to achieve lasting results, and may even offer free touchup treatments thereafter for stubborn hairs.
Due-diligence is your friend when it comes to who you let point a laser at sensitive parts of your body!
1. Don’t randomly book an appointment with the first laser removal facility you find in the phone book. Go in to the facility and check their credentials first. A laser removal technician needs special training to work the laser and give you a treatment that’s free of any complications.
2. Search Google for “Doctor’s Name + reviews” and read everything – the good, the bad, and the ugly. There will always be negative reviews of any doctor, but the positives should overwhelmingly outweigh the negatives. Pay special attention to reviews detailing the after-procedure service and how complications resulting from the procedure were dealt with.
Advanced Preparation and What to Expect
• Don’t pluck, wax, or go for electrolysis treatments 4 – 6 weeks leading up to your appointment. Shaving a week or two in advance is fine. The aforementioned methods temporarily remove the root, which means that hair won’t be present at the laser appointment, and thus grow back afterward. Doing this can extend the number of appointments needed to remove all the hair, since each hair and attached root needs to be treated at minimum 3 times before results become permanent.
• Avoid exposing the hair to be removed to sun light, bleaches, or skin lightening products for 4 – 6 weeks before your appointment. This will disrupt the melanin in the follicle, making the hair lighter and less vulnerable to the effects of the laser. Anything that irritates the skin also increases the incidence of inflammation and other skin problems after the procedure.
• When you arrive at your appointment, the technician will start by trimming the hair to be zapped to within 2mm of the skin’s surface. This is to make sure the thickest part of the hair, by the root, is exposed to the wavelengths of light from the laser.
• It’s most common for a special cooling gel to be placed on the surface of your skin, to keep it cool and protected from the laser. Many doctors have started to use specialized cooling machines that direct cold air on the areas being treated in timed intervals with the pulse of the laser.
• You’ll be given eye protection and the technician will next test a small area to make sure their machine is calibrated to your hair type.
• The technician will then work the laser throughout the agreed upon areas, working in nickle-sized increments until all the hair is removed.
• Afterwards, the technician will apply anti-inflammatory cream to the area, and may ask you to work the area with ice-packs when you get home. In most cases, inflammation will last approximately 24 – 48 hours, and is very similar to how a moderate sunburn looks and feels.
• Another procedure will be performed every 4 – 6 weeks until hair growth ceases entirely.
Best of Luck!
If you have any other concerns about choosing a doctor, or if laser hair removal is right for you, check out this article on Oprah.com, where renowned dermatologist and clinical professor, Roy Geronemus M.D., offers advice to those seeking information before taking the plunge and booking a first appointment.