The removal of unwanted and ingrown hair has been a time-consuming challenge for women and men for many years.
Modern technology has both created the desire for effective hair removal as well as the solutions.
Contemporary time constraints demand hair removal that is quick, effective and, ideally, permanent.
Since 1995 lasers have been used to reduce unwanted facial and body hair quickly and, to a degree permanently.
In recent years, Intense Pulse Light (LPL) has also been used – sometimes combined with Radiofrequency (RF). The ultimate goal has been permanent hair removal of all hair colours from skin of any colour. This goal is yet to be achieved though some photo/laser devices come closer to it than others.
How? Whether laser, IPL or IPL and RF is used, the mechanism is essentially the same – that electromagnetic energy should penetrate the skin surface to heat up the hair growth cells to the point of destruction without damaging any of the surrounding normal skin structures (no burning or blistering or skin colour change).
This is technically called selective photothermolysis or ‘smart zap’ for the nontechnical. At first it was thought only the single wavelength collimated beam of Light Amplified by Stimulated Emission of Radiation (LASER) could achieve this – however the ever-questioning, spirit of medical science determined that a high energy broad band of visible light could do it too, and if you then added radiofrequency energy you could reduce the amount of light energy needed.
The final result has been permanent hair reduction (note: reduction not elimination), finer, light coloured “peach fuzz” is unlikely to respond to laser/light therapy, deeper hairs may need a longer wavelength laser – see below.)
Hairs that are darker and thicker are better targets and respond best. And since hair has three phases to its growth cycle – and only one phase has thicker hair – it is necessary that treatments be multiple. And if your hair is lighter in colour or your skin darker, then even more treatments may be necessary.
People with darker skin types have to be especially careful selecting their hair removal Clinic. 3Because the laser/ Light is seeking the pigment in the hair as it’s target, it can also target the melanin in darker skin, risking a burn,scarring, or a change in skin colour that can be very difficult to treat.The same applies to people with a sun tan….no hair removal laser is recommended on tanned skin.
Good Clinics generally have two hair Removal lasers, one specifically for people with darker skin, usually a longer wavelength laser.This laser can also be useful in lighter skin types with deeper stubborn hair, as the longer wavelength penetrates deeper.
Unfortunately the laser manufacturers are not always very helpful, boasting their device treats all skin and hair colours….what they do not tell you is that they do this by using much lower power settings on darker skin types.
This not only means the hair removal is way less effective, low power settings can actually stimulate hair growth!
This is well recognized, especially in Mediterranean and Middle East Skin phenotypes, then you have to go find a proper laser Clinic and pay again to have the correct laser, that should of course have been used in the first place!
Select your photo/laser clinic with care. Check on the equipment and the software, check on the staff training and experience. Check with the manufacturer as to who they recommend should be doing the treatments, and whether they have been trained by the manufacturer.
Always remember that biological systems do not all respond in an identical way to even the finest technology. Ensure you receive a balanced and accurate medical consultation before starting your photo/laser hair removal program. For most people this is the most cost-effective way to achieve permanent hair reduction.
Dr. Julian Hancock is a medical and cosmetic dermatologist.