Laser hair removal
Tired of shaving or waxing? Laser hair removal might help give a long-term solution, but does have risks
How do lasers remove hair?
Lasers are essentially very strong pulses of light at a specific wavelength. When attempting to reduce the appearance of hairs, specific lasers are chosen to target the dark pigment in the hair. The pigment absorbs the laser light, causing the hair shaft to heat up very quickly. This heat travels down to the hair bulb (the ‘root’ of the hair), causing it to burn out and stop the hair growing back.
A single treatment with lasers, though, does not remove all hair in the area. Hairs are all growing at different stages; only those that are actively growing at the time will be affected by the laser treatment. All the other hairs that are in a resting stage will not be removed and, once they start growing, will show through as ‘new hairs’. For this reason a number of treatments may be needed, spaced a few weeks apart, to hopefully target all the hair in the area
How is laser hair removal performed?
Laser hair removal is usually a fairly painless procedure. Usually, cold air or a cold jet spray is applied to the treated area, reducing any pain.
A test patch is usually performed, whereby a small area is treated first. This lets the specialist decide which settings will work best for your hair and skin type. The area is then checked after a few weeks, to look for any signs of complications (see below) and if all has healed well then the rest of the area can be treated.
A number of treatments (6-8) may be needed to effectively reduce hair growth in the area. For this reason, many laser specialists call the treatment ‘laser hair reduction’, rather than ‘removal’. Also, hairs can still grow back in the area, but are usually very thin and pale – again, this is why many call it laser hair reduction instead of ‘removal’
How long does laser hair removal take?
The laser treatment is usually fairly quick, depending on the size of the area being treated. For a small area such as the lip, it may only take a few minutes. Laser treatment to an entire back could take around 30 minutes
Can laser remove any type of hair?
No. Laser is best for dark hairs, but generally not very effective for blonde or grey hair. Other treatments such as electrolysis may be needed for these hair types
Can laser hair removal be used on any skin type?
Generally, any skin type can be treated with laser hair removal, but the type of laser may need to be changed. A laser specialist may for example use an Alexandrite laser for pale skin, but the Nd:YAG laser for hair removal on darker skin. The choice of laser will usually depend on your skin type, specialist preference, and laser availability
What happens after laser hair removal?
Usually, the treated area is not too painful, and may just be pink and warm to touch. This usually resolves within a day. You should carefully follow any instructions given by your specialist, which may include applying aloe vera gel, staying out of the sun, and using a regular sunscreen and moisturiser
What are the risks of laser hair removal?
There are a number of risks and complications including:
• Burning/blistering/scarring – as lasers heat up the hair, the skin can often also overheat and occasionally blister, and even potentially scar. This scarring is a relatively rare complication though.
• Partial response – as described above, not all hairs will be treated at any one time with a laser. After a number of treatments, all the hair in the area may have been treated and no hair will grow back again. Fairly commonly, top-up treatments are required, as a few scattered hairs start to grow in the treated area. These top-up treatments are usually just a single treatment every few months, often becoming less needed as time goes on.
• Non response – lasers can only target hairs with dark pigment in them. Blonde, white and silver hairs are therefore very difficult to treat with laser and other methods are probably more suitable for these hair types.
• Change in pigmentation – occasionally, at the same time as the laser reducing the hairs, the colour of the skin itself may also be affected in the treated area. This can result in hypopigmentation (paleness of skin) or hyperpigmentation (darkening of skin). This effect may be temporary, lasting a few months, or can occasionally be lifelong. The risks are higher with darker skin types.
• Pain – the treated area can feel slightly sore or warm after treatment, which usually responds well to simple painkillers. Any pain is usually short-lived and lasts less than a day.
• Infection – blistered and broken skin can allow infection to enter, resulting in a red inflamed area. This may require antibiotics, but could potentially increase the chances of scarring and pigment changes. Cold sores can be activated if the lip area is treated, and some laser specialists will prescribe antibiotics around the time of laser treatment to reduce this risk.
• Increased hair growth – this is a fairly rare occurrence, whereby the hair in the treated area actually starts to grow faster than before. This usually responds to further laser treatment
This information is for general information only. If you have any concerns about your health or are considering any treatments, you should seek advice from a healthcare specialist