We all know about depilation and wax treatments. Many people are getting tired of constant appointments and finding various ways to remove hair. Of course, the alternative is to use a razor and always worry about causing damage to the skin and unintentional cuts. However, is this the only alternative?
There is another attractive option you might want to consider — laser hair removal. So how does it work? Is it safe? Is it permanent? These are just some of the many questions you might have about this treatment. Here, we will answer all of them.
What Is It, and How Does It Work?
Let’s start from the beginning by answering what laser hair removal is. It is a process of removing body hair using a laser. Unlike with previously mentioned methods, the idea behind laser treatments is to remove hair from the body permanently.
The process has been around since the nineties. It can be significantly more effective (and less painful) than shaving, plucking, or waxing. The science behind it is relatively simple. During the treatment, a specific area of the skin is exposed to the pulses of concentrated beams of light.
The pigment (or melanin) then absorbs the light, which gets converted into heat. The heat will damage the hair follicles in the skin, preventing further growth. So what sets this method apart is that it damages the follicle or destroys it.
A person needs to take several treatments. They will also need to schedule maintenance treatments in the future if they want to prevent hair growth permanently. Laser hair removal is the most effective way to eliminate unwanted body hair, but it is rarely permanent. People often wrongly believe that they will need to go through the process once, and they will be done for the rest of their lives.
In reality, the treatment will give a person a couple of years before scheduling another one. The primary reason for this is that the follicle is often just damaged instead of destroyed.
That is why saying that the process of laser hair removal is permanent can be misleading. It can be, but there are so many factors that will determine whether hair will appear in the treated area again. These factors include the hair and skin type, skill of the person doing the removal, number of treatments, etc.
The Most Common Areas for the Treatment
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s talk about the most common areas on the body that undergo laser hair removal. Ladies usually opt for the lower legs, underarms, and bikini area.
Of course, none of this is surprising. Unwanted hair can be such a bother. Moreover, not everyone is willing to spend hours and hours on waxing. What you might not know is that the treatment is popular with men too.
According to recent research conducted in the U.K., more men are willing to admit that they remove hair from body parts other than their face. The most popular options for men’s laser treatment are the back, chest, and bikini areas.
Will It Hurt? (Potential Risks)
Some of the things people want to know include how complicated the procedure is, if it will hurt (more than the alternative) and if it has any side effects. So let’s start from the beginning.
Salons/offices often advertise the treatment as painless, which, unfortunately, isn’t true. The person going through laser hair removal will most likely feel something. The pain tolerance depends on the treated area, machine used and also varies from person to person. For example, laser hair removal of the legs will be significantly less painful than the bikini area.
The skin is a lot more sensitive near the private parts. Even if we consider the difference in pain tolerance, many would agree that laser treatments are a lot less painful than waxing. They are more along the lines of uncomfortable than painful.
You need to be aware that there are potential side effects of laser hair removal. Now, we’re not saying that the risks are severe, but there are a couple of things you need to do (and know) before your laser hair removal treatments.
Firstly, the procedure might cause discomfort or skin irritation, such as redness or swelling of the treated area. Usually, the side effects will disappear after a couple of hours. Secondly, the person may notice pigment changes. The treated area might become lighter or darker, and these changes might be permanent or temporary. While it is unlikely that any side effect will appear, it is still something you need to consider.
Preparing for the Treatment
To avoid any potential problems or side effects, the safest thing to do is prepare for the treatment properly. So what should you do before and after the treatment? One of the first things you should remember is to avoid using self-tanners and being in the sunlight. Avoiding sunlight is essential for the treatment to work as well as intended. You can also significantly lower the chances of side effects this way.
Naturally, you only need to avoid direct sunlight a few weeks before the treatment. A similar thing applies to antibiotics as well. If you are going through another treatment over the same area, you should wait at least five days before the laser hair removal procedure.
Finally, pregnant women or anyone using medications like Accutane (that warns against sunlight) should completely avoid laser hair removal. People on Accutane should avoid laser hair removal for as long as they are using these medications and six months after. Furthermore, you should avoid waxing, plucking, electrolysis, and other hair removal methods before the treatment, but you should shave or trim beforehand.
After the session is over, you should still avoid sunlight and applying alpha hydroxy acids or retinoids. The safest way to ensure that the process is harmless and successful is to do two things before the treatment.
Firstly, talk to your physician or Medical Esthetician. They will know if you should avoid the treatment based on your health condition and any medication you’re using. Moreover, they will be able to tell you how to ensure that nothing goes wrong.
Secondly, always go to a professional. The effectiveness of laser therapy also depends on the skill of the person doing the treatment. Ideally, you will go to someone who has years of experience and a degree. You should never go for the cheaper option as it might affect your health.
Types of Laser Hair Removal
Technology has improved a lot in the past couple of decades, and there are numerous methods for long-term hair removal. Let’s take a look at some of the options and how hair removal lasers work.
The first method we’ll cover is alexandrite. It operates on shorter wavelengths, 755 nm (near-infrared). It is one of the most common types of laser hair removal machines used and is quite effective.
The beam’s length is long enough to penetrate the skin and destroy or damage the hair follicles. The perfect candidate for the alexandrite laser has light skin colour and dark hair, type I to III on a Fitzpatrick scale. Alexandrite laser is one of the fastest methods on the list, and it works great in larger areas.
This laser’s primary disadvantage is that it isn’t suitable for people with darker skin since it can cause changes in the pigment (either lighter or darker).
The diode laser is often compared to the alexandrite. The primary difference between the two is in the wavelengths. Diode laser operates on 810 nm, and it can penetrate the skin deeper. As a result, the method is excellent for people with coarse hair and darker skin colour (medium to dark, up to Fitzpatrick type IV).
The primary advantage of diode lasers is their versatility. It can be a lot more effective, which means that the person will require fewer sessions. Furthermore, it can be nearly painless. The number of sessions will depend on many factors, like hair and skin colour, the technician’s skill, type of diode laser, etc.
Ruby lasers operate on a 694 nm wavelength. It was the first type ever used for laser hair removal. The method is not nearly as effective as others on the list, and some might say that it has become obsolete.
Moreover, it works best on lighter skin colours and softer hair. It also lacks the versatility diode lasers have since it’s not efficient on darker skin colours. One of the main advantages of ruby lasers is that the technology has been around for quite a while. There is a lot of research and studies about the method, its side-effects, and its effectiveness.
LP Nd: YAG
Firstly, we should address the name. LP Nd: YAG stands for long-pulsed neodymium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet. The laser operates on 1064 nm, and it is the device with the longest wavelength on the list.
YAG lasers are almost the complete opposite of ruby lasers (due to the wavelength). They work best for people with darker skin colour — Fitzpatrick V and VI. As a result, they are significantly less efficient for people with lighter skin and hair colour. Furthermore, YAG lasers can be uncomfortable due to the wavelength, but the efficiency is excellent.
Intense Pulsed Light
Intense Pulsed Light or IPL is the final method we will discuss here. The first thing we should mention about IPL is that it isn’t a laser. People often consider it part of the laser hair treatment due to its method, which is similar to others listed here.
In essence, the IPL is just light. Its primary advantage is that it is highly customizable for each individual. The wavelength can be adjusted, and the number of treatments depends on the person’s skin tone and hair type.
How Many Sessions Are Needed?
The number of sessions needed mostly depends on the person and type of treatment. It also depends on the treated area. Most commonly, people require between two and six sessions. The interval between the sessions depends on the body area.
An area with faster hair growth, like the upper lip, might require repetitions every four to eight weeks. On the other hand, hair removal on the back will take a more extended time between treatments (twelve to sixteen weeks).
After each session, the person will be able to notice less hair in the area. Repeating the process can result in permanent hair reduction. Naturally, there is a chance that the hair removal treatment will need to be repeated after a couple of years.
Is Laser Hair Removal Better Than the Alternative?
If we look at other options, like waxing, shaving, threading, plucking, or anything in between, the results are evident. These methods focus on removing hair but not preventing the hair from growing in the future.
As you are probably aware, the person will need to repeat the process indefinitely based on their hair growth speed and other factors. With laser removal, the idea is to prevent hair growth by destroying the follicles. We have already mentioned that the method doesn’t necessarily have permanent results, and it usually doesn’t.
However, it is more than evident that laser treatments keep the skin smooth for longer. The person will need to repeat the session every couple of years, ensuring long-lasting effects. Results are based on the hair and skin type and the technician’s proficiency and skill performing the treatment.
Considering that the side-effects are minimal and almost non-existent if the person follows the precautions, we can safely say that the treatment is significantly better than the alternative.
How Does It Work in Canada?
When it comes to laws and regulations in Canada, there are no official requirements for purchasing or using laser-based machines for hair removal treatments. According to Health Canada, the laser therapy facilities should purchase devices with an active Canadian medical device license, based on Medical Device Regulations.
That means that laser therapy facilities should comply with safety procedures when buying or operating the device. Since there are no additional requirements, you should always consult your doctor and follow safety precautions before and after the treatment.
The main problem here is that only the machine needs to be licenced. There are no training or licence requirements for operating the machine. Most commonly, the manufacturer provides the training, and anyone can use the device without any problems.
Laser hair removal procedures are still unregulated in Canada, which means that you should inform yourself as best as possible and talk to your doctor before scheduling the treatment.