Laser hair removal: Zapping unwanted hair
Laser hair removal technology is evolving. No matter what skin type you have, newer lasers can safely and effectively remove unwanted hair from your face and body.
If you’re tired of shaving, waxing or plucking body hair only to have it return days later, you may be interested in laser hair removal. Laser hair removal systems use laser light — an intense, pulsating beam of light — to remove unwanted hair. Whether it’s on your face, arms, legs or other areas, laser hair removal may be an option if you seek long-term results.
Who is a candidate for laser hair removal?
Laser hair removal is used for people who want to remove unwanted body hair. Common treatment locations include legs, armpits, upper lip, chin and bikini line. Although laser hair removal doesn’t guarantee permanent hair removal, it does extend the “hair-free” period, which can vary from several months to several years. With multiple treatments, long-term hair removal is possible.
Hair color and skin type are the key factors that influence the success of laser hair removal. It’s most successful on people with dark hair (brown or black) and light skin. However, it can also be used on people with darker skin types.
How do you prepare for laser hair removal?
Before scheduling laser hair removal, you meet with your doctor to discuss the factors that determine whether the procedure is likely to work well for you. This meeting generally includes:
- Your medical history. Your doctor asks questions about conditions you have or have had, as well as any medications you’re taking.
- Photographs. Photographs are taken from different angles of the area to be treated. Your doctor uses these photos for before-and-after assessments and long-term reviews.
- A discussion of risks, benefits and expectations. You and your doctor talk about risks and benefits. He or she explains what laser hair removal can and can’t do for you and what your results might be.
If you have a tan from sun exposure or sunless tanning products, you must wait until the tan fades completely before undergoing laser hair removal. A tan increases your risk of side effects such as blistering and discoloration. Avoid sun exposure four to six weeks before treatment.
Laser hair removal is effective only on short, visible hair. Two to three days before the procedure, you shave the area to be treated, and allow it to grow to a stubble. Avoid waxing or plucking the hair and electrolysis three weeks before treatment.
How does laser hair removal work?
During the procedure, your doctor presses a hand-held laser instrument to your skin. Depending on the type of laser, a cooling device on the tip or a cool gel is used to protect the skin.
When the doctor activates the laser, the laser light passes through your skin’s surface to tiny sacs (hair follicles) where hair growth originates. The intense heat damages the hair follicle, which inhibits hair growth. It takes several treatments to provide an extended hair-free period.
What can you expect during laser hair removal?
During the procedure, you wear goggles to prevent accidental exposure of your eyes to laser light. When the laser is activated, you feel a stinging sensation. Oftentimes a topical local anesthetic is applied before the procedure to reduce discomfort. The procedure causes a slight charring of stubble. You may notice a strong odor of singed hair, which is normal.
How long the procedure takes depends on the area of the body involved. A small area such as the upper lip may take several minutes. A larger area such as the back may require several hours.
What can you expect after laser hair removal?
After the laser hair removal, no medications or bandages are necessary. You may notice some redness and swelling for the first few hours. Also, stinging may occur for the first 24 to 48 hours. Some people experience a slight crusting of the skin. If crusting occurs, keep the area moist with petroleum jelly (Vaseline).
- Avoid exercise and exertion for the first 24 hours. Perspiration from exertion may increase irritation caused by the laser.
- Avoid exposure to the sun for several weeks after treatment. After this period, make sure you apply sunscreen whenever you’re in the sun. Avoid tanning booths — the ultraviolet light damages the skin.
- Don’t wax or pluck hairs between treatments.
- Don’t pick at or manipulate the skin in treated areas.
Don’t rub or scrub the treated area. You may gently wash the area with soap and water.
What are the results of laser hair removal?
Studies show that for suitable candidates, hair removal lasers can reduce hair counts by 40 percent to 80 percent. Results vary from person to person, however, and some people respond better to treatment than others.
Multiple treatments can prolong the duration of hair loss, but hair regrowth is possible. Also as you age, unwanted hair growth inevitably continues, and you may need repeat treatments in the future.
What are the risks of laser hair removal?
Complications from laser hair removal are rare. Bleeding during the laser treatment is extremely rare, as is the possibility of infection resulting from treatment.
Side effects from laser hair removal include, but are not limited to:
- Darkening of the skin (hyperpigmentation). This is usually a temporary condition, but in rare instances, is long lasting or permanent.
- Lightening of the skin (hypopigmentation). This is of special concern with people who have darker skin. Laser hair treatment is more successful on fair skin, but darker skin can also be treated.
- Blistering and scarring. These rarely occur.
- Changes in the skin texture. These rarely occur.
- Crusting or scabbing. If this occurs, it’s temporary.
- Hair changes. New hair growth may be finer and lighter in color. In some cases, new hair may grow in areas adjacent to the treated areas. This can be successfully treated with additional laser treatments.
Talk to your doctor about how these risks apply to you. Understanding what’s involved in laser hair removal and weighing the benefits and risks can help you decide if this procedure is your best option for long-term hair removal.
Read this article in spanish: Preguntas sobre depilación láser