How Does Laser Hair Removal Work and is it Permanent?
Typically, when we’re talking about hair we’re talking about unwanted hair loss and what you can do to help prevent it or restore it. In this case, however, we wanted to take a look at the other end of the spectrum, removing unwanted hair.
Most people want to keep the top of their head covered by luscious locks of hair, but would rather not deal with hair that appears on other areas of the body. There are many options available to help remove body hair ranging from depilatory gels and creams, to waxing and shaving, but nothing has proven more successful than laser hair removal.
How Long Has Laser Hair Removal Been Around?
Laser hair removal was discovered in the early 1960’s, but really came into its own during the 1980’s. The method used in the 1980’s, however, wasn’t as permanent as some people would have liked, which will get into shortly. But as the years progressed and technology continued to advance, a more permanent solution was discovered.
Laser hair removal has become extremely popular over the last decade with millions of patients undergoing the procedure on a yearly basis. It’s proven to be extremely effective and simple to perform, while providing amazing results. Like all fashion trends, body hair has its fluctuations. Currently, bushy beards are still going strong while chest, back and pubic hair is mostly considered undesirable and being removed at astounding rates.
How Does Laser Hair Removal Work?
Laser hair removal works by focusing a laser, or light source, at your unwanted hair follicles. The melainin (or pigment molecule) in the hair shaft or root attracts the laser and is then vaporized by an extremely strong and quick burst of energy, thus destroying it on contact.
When you arrive for a laser hair removal appointment the area will be trimmed down to 1- 3mm in length. The laser doesn’t see the hair as it emerges from the skin, it only sees the melanin that is below the surface of the skin. So having the hair as short as possible will ensure that less heat from the laser touches the skin which will make the procedure safer and less painful.
Once the hair has been trimmed down, the specialist may apply a topical numbing cream to the area which will help alleviate some of the discomfort. This cream takes about 20-30 minutes to begin to work, so you will have to wait for a little while.
Once the area has been sufficiently “numbed” the specialist will begin the procedure. They will start by stretching the skin as flat as possible or holding it taught and then lining up the laser to be perpendicular to the skin. Once the laser pulses, it will begin to vaporize the hair as the doctor or technician moves the handpiece across the area that is being treated.
While the procedure is generally tolerable, some patients describe the discomfort as that of a rubber being snapped on the skin or a minor burning sensation, along with the smell of burning hair.
Depending on the location that you wish to have the hair removed, and the amount of hair in the area, a session can last anywhere from 10 minutes to a couple hours. And you definitely need to come back for multiple sessions in order to decrease the amount of regrowth that you see between laser treatment sessions.
Is Laser Hair Removal Permanent?
While the technology has improved over the years, laser hair removal is still not considered fully permanent.
Hair removal lasers will heat up the hair follicles to the point where they are damaged or dormant, but it will not eradicate them completely. Because the stem cells of the hair follicles can still exist in your body, there is a chance that they could repair themselves over time and begin to grow new hair. Also, hairs on the body cycle through growing and shedding phases just like the scalp so in order for the laser to “kill” the hairs, it has to be in the active growing phase. Hence, it takes multiple treatments to catch all of the hairs during their growing phase with any given laser treatment.
This procedure typically helps reduce the number of hairs in a specific area and does not fully remove all of them. Some of the follicles do not get damaged by the laser and will start to grow new hairs in a matter of weeks after the procedure is complete, while those that were damaged may lay dormant for a while but then can grow back months later when they have recovered. When laser treatments are repeated at consistent intervals, generally every 6-10 weeks, this will lead to fewer hairs growing in the area of concern, but it won’t make you completely smooth forever. Hairs are very smart, and are programmed to grow back. However, oftentimes the regrowth is lighter and finer than the original unwanted hair, so even that can be a benefit to laser hair treatments.
Patients with lighter skin tones and darker hair tend to have the best results, as the laser’s light will be better absorbed by the hair as the laser can more easily target them due to the color contrast. Patients with dark hair and dark skin need to be VERY careful that they are seeking treatment by an experienced clinic. There are specific lasers that can treat dark skinned patients but if you get the wrong laser, it is very easy to get burned or to be left with light or dark spots where the hair was removed. Also, red or white hair is not amendable to treatment. If there is little to no pigment in a hair, the laser cannot see it. Remember, the laser sees melanin, not hair and melanin is the pigment.
Should I Get Laser Hair Removal?
If you’re thinking about getting laser hair removal, just remember to ask questions. Make sure that you manage your expectations and understand that while many places will advertise laser hair removal as being permanent, that’s not always the case. “Laser Hair Reduction” is really a more accurate term for this procedure. Don’t be fooled by slogans like “never shave again” as this is an unrealistic expectation from laser hair devices.
Laser hair removal might help you save money in the long run over shaving and other hair removal products plus it can help eliminate nasty razor burn or other uncomfortable razor bumps. But you will most likely need to return to the office for multiple sessions when you first start and have touch-up sessions in the future.
Just like hair transplants, hair removal technology continues to improve all the time. While we’re light years away from the first laser hair removal techniques back in the 1960’s, we’re still not quite to the point where we can ensure permanent hair removal.
The important thing is to make sure you’re working with an experienced specialist with the latest technology who understands your hair and skin color. Even if an office has the latest technology, if the person using that tech doesn’t know what they are doing, you won’t see the results you were expecting. Worse yet, you could be left with disfiguring spots or scars. Whether you’re tired of shaving your beard, chest, nether region or other parts, laser hair removal can be done safely and effectively on most people.