How does Laser Hair Removal work?
Laser hair removal uses various laser energies to destroy via heating the stem cell/growing part of the hair follicle. There are many different types of hair removal lasers: diode, Nd-Yag, alexandrite, and then intense pulsed light (not a true laser). The FDA has approved hair laser devices to claim “permanent hair reduction” and NOT permanent hair removal. Don’t let anyone fool you to think that laser hair removal is a one time thing and that your hair won’t come back. For many people laser hair treatment does result in hair removal which can last 8-10 years after a series of sessions with touch ups from time to time. Why is that the case? Well, when we target the stem cell area of hair follicles, it stops those cells from multiplying for some time (like winter does to perennials), but we have not destroyed the whole hair follicle with the seed.
Are you a good candidate for laser hair removal?
Most likely yes. Laser hair removal when done by a medical professional is safe on all skin types as long as they have devices safe for light and dark skin. The ideal candidate for hair removal is someone with dark hair and light skin because the laser targets pigment in the hair follicle for destruction. Patients with white, or gray hair will not do well with laser hair removal because there is not enough pigment in the hair for destruction. What does this mean for you? If you want laser hair treatment, get it before you turn white/gray! Blonde and red haired patients often require more treatments for the same reason-they have less pigment.
What lasers are safe for dark skinned patients?
Traditionally the Nd-Yag laser works best for dark skinned patients. It is able to penetrate deeper than the other laser mediums which prevents the pigment making cells in the skin from being accidentally targeted.
Is laser hair removal painful?
I have treated my chest and back, and it is not fun. It depends on the device, the thickness of your hair, your pain tolerance, and what type of cooling is used for hair removal. That being said I have used topical numbing which does help if you are pain sensitive. I have also had injectable numbing which worked well but required some pokes.
How many treatments will I need?
Usually anywhere from 4-8 treatments spaced 4-8 weeks apart depending on your skin type. Touch ups every year or so may be required.
What are the risks of laser hair removal?
Because we are heating the skin, risks include burns, dark spots,and blistering. Some patients, particularly Mediterranean, and Southeast Asian women might notice increased hair growth after laser treatment. This occurs in up to 30% of treated patients and if it happens, we just continue treating until hair reduction is noted. The biggest risk is damage to the eyes, so always make sure you have your laser goggles/shields on before treatment.
Is laser hair removal safe for all body areas?
Yes. Laser hair removal can be done on the face, under the arms, the chest/back/arms/legs, and the bikini area. The darker and coarser the hair, the better the outcome.
Does laser hair removal help some medical conditions?
Patients with polycystic ovarian syndrome, pilonidal cyst disease, pseudofolliculitis barbae, and hidradenitis suppurativa may benefit from treatment.
Read on for more information on laser hair removal.
Dr. Karan Lal is a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in Hillsborough, New Jersey.