Laser hair removal is a common cosmetic procedure to remove unwanted hair from the body. It is the second most frequently performed cosmetic procedure in the United States, following injections to reduce wrinkles in the skin.
Laser hair removal involves the use of highly concentrated beams of light directed towards the area of hair that are to be removed from the body. The laser beams selectively penetrate and destroy hair follicles in the skin by becoming absorbed by the pigment in the follicles.
Areas of the body that may be treated with laser hair removal include the:
- Bikini area
- Face (e.g. upper lip and chin)
Types of lasers and light sources
There are various lasers and sources of light that may be used in laser hair removal. The type of laser technology used depends on the hair color and skin type of the individual.
Common types of lasers that may be used for laser hair removal include:
- Ruby: this is the oldest type of laser, and is best for fine and light hair.
- Alexandrite: this is the fastest type of laser, and is good for large body areas.
- Diode: this laser is most effective for patients with darker skin types.
- Neodymium YAG: this laser can be used for all skin types.
- Intense pulsed light sources: these use photothermolysis (not lasers).
Before and after the procedure
Before the laser hair removal procedure begins, the dermatologist should review the medical history of the patient and do a physical examination to ensure that the patient is in good health. It is important to discuss what the procedure will involve and what the patient can expect at this time, as well as answering any questions that they may have.
In the two weeks preceding the procedure, patients should be advised to avoid sunbathing, tanning, waxing, chemical peels and collagen injections. Perfumes and other chemicals that may irritate the skin should also be avoided shortly before and after treatment. Additionally, some medications may need to be ceased before the procedure to reduce the risk of bleeding, such as aspirin and other anti-inflammatory drugs.
During the procedure, a hand-held instrument that delivers the laser beams is pressed to the skin of the area being treated. Depending on the type of laser used, a gel or device may be used to protect the skin from harm.
Following a laser hair removal treatment, patients should notice some redness and inflammation of the hair follicles in the treated area. They may also experience some pain, soreness or discomfort. In most cases, this can be managed with over the counter analgesic medications, such as paracetamol. Additionally, aloe vera may be suggested in order to soothe the newly treated area (as it may sting). An antiseptic cream to be applied topically to the area of the skin after treatment is also usually prescribed to prevent infection in the area.
For most people, a series of treatments is required to remove the hair in the area and reduce future growth. The majority of treatments result in a permanent reduction in hair growth. Some people will notice complete hair removal, which may last for an extended period of time. However, most people will require some maintenance treatments to maintain the desired reduction in hair growth.
Although it is not possible to predict how each individual will respond to laser hair removal, the technique tends to have the best results for people with dark hair on light skin. With the introduction of newer technologies, however, it is becoming more effective for individuals with all hair and skin types.
Reviewed by Afsaneh Khetrapal, BSc (Hons)