Laser Hair Removal

Laser hair removal has become a staple of the constantly increasing list of cosmetic treatment options available to the public. As the name suggests, it is a medical procedure used to remove unwanted hair. The hair removal process involves the application of a concentrated beam of light (laser) to a specific treatment area. The energy from the laser beam is subsequently absorbed by a target chromophore. In this case the pigment melanin, found in both the hair and the skin. Essentially, melanin is what gives each of us our specific skin and hair color.  The melanin absorbs the energy from the laser and converts this energy into heat. The stronger the laser energy, the more heat generated until eventually the hair follicle that grows our hair is damaged. As a result, the hair follicle no longer allows your hair to grow. Since Laser hair removal is performed over a prolonged period of time, the end result is a progressive decrease or inhibition of hair growth in the treatment area.

Often advertised as permanent hair removal, the fact is that the laser hair removal process does NOT permanently remove a person’s hair. Permanent removal is not actually possible due to the impact of hormones on hair follicle growth. That said, laser hair removal, when done properly, can significantly minimize hair growth in a treatment area for prolonged periods of time. However, since hormones are always present within the body, there will always be some new hair growth. This is why it is not possible to permanently remove all unwanted hair. This continual development of new hair is also what makes it necessary for individuals who have already had prior treatment, to occasionally undergo touch up treatments every few years to keep any new growth under control. That said, a 90-95% reduction in unwanted hair is a reasonable expectation for the average person. To accomplish this result, multiple laser hair removal treatments are required during the initial hair removal process which normally takes up to a year. Is laser hair removal for everyone? The answer to that question is no. Since laser hair removal attacks the melanin in the hair and hair follicle, it is only appropriate in individuals with sufficient amounts of melanin to make the treatments effective. People with gray hair or blonde/red hair generally have an insufficient amount of melanin to make laser hair removal effective. In general, laser hair removal is most effective in those individuals with light skin and dark hair.

What you can expect

Laser hair removal usually requires a series of at least five to six treatments performed over the course of a year. Treatment intervals will vary depending on the area(s) being treated, since hair in different areas of the body grow at different rates. In areas such as the upper lip, where hair grows quickly, treatment intervals might be 4-6 weeks. In slower growing areas like the back, treatment intervals might be every 12-16 weeks.

For each treatment you will be given protective goggles to wear for your safety. On occasion, the staff may also ask to shave the treatment area if excessive growth is noted.

Why do people undergo laser hair removal?

Some do it for aesthetic reasons. Some do it for discomfort reasons. Some do it because they hate to shave or just want to save time shaving. For whatever reason, every person who undergoes laser hair removal has their own story. Laser hair removal was originally developed to help people reduce unwanted leg hair, but over time it has quickly expanded to almost all areas of the body from face to toes. The only real exception has been in areas surrounding the eyelids.

How successful the laser removal process will be is highly dependent on a person’s hair color and skin type. As was mentioned before, the laser hair removal process is most effective on people with light skin and dark hair. This holds true because since melanin is present in both the skin and hair, the laser energy will be absorbed by both the skin and hair. In essence, both will compete for the energy put out by the laser. The darker the skin or the hair, the more melanin present. The greater the melanin, the more laser energy absorbed. Consequently, the darker the hair relative to the skin, the more laser energy the hair follicle will take in relative to the skin and thus the more likely the hair follicle will be damaged as opposed to the skin. In contrast, if the skin is darker than the hair, the skin will absorb a larger proportion of the laser energy. Thus, the skin is more likely to be damaged compared to the hair follicle, which is not desireable. This is why the goal in laser hair removal is to maximize hair follicle absorption of this laser energy and minimize skin absorption.

People with darker skin pose a unique issue in that many people with dark skin, also have dark hair. The risk of skin damage is greatest in skin and hair are similar in color. Fortunately, the new advances in laser technology when combined with the specialists at STL Vein and Cosmetics, make laser hair treatments possible even in these dark skin, dark hair cases. Unfortunately, this is not the case in those individuals with blonde, red or gray hair. There just is not enough melanin in these individuals to effectively remove the hair. Perhaps one day, medical science will come up with something that works in these individuals. Until then, the more traditional hair removal techniques remain the only options.

Risks

The risks and side effects that come with laser hair removal treatment are highly dependent on skin type, hair color, and treatment protocols. The most common side effects of laser hair removal include:

  • Skin irritation.As the laser energy is absorbed by the skin, a temporary redness and puffiness may develop that is similar to a light sun burn. This irritation typically resolves within a few hours of treatment.
  • Pigment changes.Some people may experience a darkening or lightening of the treated area. This phenomenon is more common in those individuals who do not avoid sun exposure following treatment or who have darker skin tones.

On rare occasions, laser hair removal can result in skin damage in the form of blistering, crusting, or scarring. Laser hair treatments on the eyelids, eyebrows and their surrounding areas should be avoided due to the possibility of collateral eye injury from the laser beam.

How to get laser hair removal

Once you decide to undergo laser hair removal, your next step is to choose a doctor who's has experience in laser hair removal. Do not get drawn into medical spas or salons that advertise their non-medical personnel who do the medical procedure.

Prior to beginning any laser hair removal treatment, schedule a consultation with the doctor to have any remaining questions that you might have answered and to help confirm that this is an appropriate treatment option for you. Your doctor should do the following:

  • Review your medical history, check your medication list, and evaluate for any contraindications to laser hair removal.
  • Discuss all risks, benefits and expectations, including answering of any and all questions.
  • Take before and after photos to be used at a later date to determine efficacy of treatment.

Many consultations with conclude with a discussion of the proposed treatment protocol and the cost of the treatment. Since laser hair removal is generally considered a cosmetic procedure, insurance coverage is highly unlikely. It is widely considered an out of pocket expense.

Things to remember before treatment

Some things that your physician will instruct you to do prior to beginning treatment include:

  • Staying out of the sun.It is important to minimize sun exposure for at least 6 weeks before the start of treatment. A spf 50 sunscreen should be applied daily once treatment has begun.
  • Lightening your skin.Avoid self-tanning creams during the treatment protocol.
  • Avoiding other hair removal methods.Any hair removal procedures that physically pluck the hair out of the hair follicle should be avoided prior to treatment. The actual presence of the hair and hair follicle are necessary for the procedure to work. Plucking, waxing and electrolysis can affect the hair follicle and thus should be avoided for at least 4 weeks prior to treatment.
  • Shaving the treatment area.Using a razor to shave or trim the treatment area is required the day before a laser treatment. Shaving helps to minimize excess hair in and around the follicles thus reducing the potential for skin damage from burning hair while leaving the hair follicle intact.

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