Laser hair removal is a method of removing hair by exposing to pulses of laser light which destroy the hair follicle by traveling down the shaft of the hair and also causes delay in the consequent hair growth. It is an extremely targeted treatment that does not affect the skin around. The high beam light destroy the hair follicle and a hair cannot grow from it as the light energy is converted to heat which destroys the tube-shaped sacs below the skin surface that produce hair. As soon as melanin (pigment) in hair is targeted, the laser beam burns the hair follicle and all the way down the root.
It is commonly practiced in many beauty and cosmetic clinics. A lot of research in terms of technique evolution has been done in the past decade.
Today, it has become highly effective and efficient method of hair removal and beautification, and is been used widely. It has gained popularity because of its seamless process and effectiveness, although some of it is dependent upon the competency of the person carrying out the process. It is said to be the only treatment of its kind that comes close to full claim of permanent, long lasting hair reduction as it acts on the hair deep in the follicle, as compared to other treatments of hair removal that cut the hair follicle mid-shaft. This technique has been in practice since the year 1997, and has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a ‘permanent hair reduction’ in the United States.
The basic principle of this hair removal technique is based on selective photo-thermolysis, wherein a particular wavelength of light and pulse to on the targeted tissue with least effects on other neighbouring tissue. The pigment in the hair follicles absorbs the light and that causes the hair destruction.
The growth of the hair follicle occurs in multiple stages, and a laser beam can only impact the currently active growing hair follicles. A hair has a distinct growth cycle that involves resting, shedding and growing phases. Recently removed hair that is generally in the resting phase will not be seen to the technician or the machine. Therefore, many sessions are usually needed to damage and arrest the growth of the hair follicle in all its phases of growth.
Several treatments depending on type of hair and skin colour have suggested to provide long-term hair reduction. Majority of the patients require atleast 8 treatment sessions. Present recommendations differ as per machine type, but manufacturers and clinicians advise a gap of 3 – 8 weeks between two consecutive sessions, which also happens to be the standard length of a hair growth cycle and depending upon the area being treated. The number of sessions are dependent upon many factors like part of the body being treated, skin tone, hair quality, and gender. Since the laser procedure puts the hair follicles in a state of dormancy for a long period as compared to other methods of hair removal like shaving, waxing and tweezing, the hair that grow are fewer and finer. The alternative methods of hair removal do not target on hair producing follicles and act only on the surface.
While ‘permanent’ laser hair removal is sort of misleading, after about 6 to 8 treatments, one can expect a considerable hair reduction. The type of hair and skin colour can have an impact on efficiency of hair removal. It is the most efficient when the laser can focus on marked difference in pigment – such as darker hair on a light skin as the pigment contrast makes it easier for the laser to target the hair, travel into the follicular area and destroy the follicle. As the concentrated light is taken up by the pigment, laser hair removal is tedious in people with lighter hair colour like blonde or gray.
Though laser hair reduction is claimed to be permanent, some of the hair will still grow back later. Experts suggest to get a touch-up done at least one to four times a year. It is also said that though the hair follicle finds its way back, it grows back finer and less coarse than what one had before. For this reason alone, some doctors refer to laser hair removal as a long term hair removal treatment rather than a permanent hair removal fix. Along with this, a reduction in the density of active hair is seen in the laser treated area.
Body parts with coarse hair such as lower legs, bikini area and underarms, tend to respond fastest as compared to finer hair in the facial area, which responds the slowest.
Also, hair growth is likely to be influenced by hormones and medications. For instance, hormonal changes during pregnancy can trigger unexpected hair growth and laser hair removal may not last forever. Medications that are photosensitive have to be stopped at least a week prior to the treatment. Most antibiotics can be photosensitive and have to be taken with caution while opting for this cosmetic procedure.
Most doctors state that laser method is effective in removing about 10% to 25 % of hair in the initial sessions and, 70% to 90 % of hair at the end of the treatment.
Some are of the opinion that even after finishing all the sessions of hair removal, it is said to last for at least a couple of years; requiring maintenance laser cycles to keep the area hair free forever. After each treatment session, one can see a gradual lessening of hair and the hair that reappears, will be seen to grow finer, lighter and slower than before. The reason for this is that the laser may damage the hair follicle even when it fails to destroy it.
It is also believed that body hair goes through resting and growth cycle, which is why a series of follow-up treatments are scheduled every 4 – 6 weeks, although the exact number of maintenance laser treatments required is different for every individual. Experts state that when a hair is undergoing resting phase of the cycle, it is unable to absorb enough laser light or produce the required heat to disrupt the hair growth center. This translates into the fact that one has to have laser multiple times – usually about 6 sessions to get rid of a considerable portion of hair from the body part. The maintenance sessions make sure that the hair follicles do not regenerate and are recommended for best results
After the procedure, hair do not shed off immediately. This happens over a period of few days to weeks. The repeated treatments are generally essential as hair growth and loss naturally occur in phases, and laser treatment suits best with hair follicles in the new-growth stage.
Benefits of Laser hair removal :
- Accuracy : Lasers can selectively target dark, coarse hair while leaving the adjacent skin undamaged
- Speed : Each single pulse of laser takes a fraction of a second and can treat a lot of hair at the same time. Smaller areas such as parts of the face – upper lips can be completed in less than a minute’s time and the larger areas such as the legs – may take an hour
- Predictability : Most people who opt for laser hair removal had near to permanent hair reduction after about 4 to 6 sessions
- Others : It also helps to reduce in-growth of hair on the skin and causes less irritation of the skin as it triggers the hair to grow straight
To remove the hair permanently, the technician must be equipped with the know-how of the manner in which the hair should be targeted and the type of laser to be used. Recent advances state that laser machines that produce longer wavelengths work better on dark skin tone.
It is true that laser hair removal method has the potential to eliminate hair. However no single treatment can remove hair entirely. This method also does not remove the hair forever, but it does significantly reduce the hair growth to a point where may not require to shave altogether. The cycle of each individual’s hair growth plays an important role in the effectiveness of hair elimination. It is still one of the best options for reducing hair growth over a long period of time.