4 factors to consider before laser hair removal

Lasers effectively remove hair, but multiple treatments are required for permanent hair loss, results vary and darker skin types are more difficult to treat. To know if it's right for you, consider these four factors.

4 factors to consider before laser hair removal

1. How laser hair removal works

  • Laser hair removal targets melanin, the dark pigment that gives colour to hair and skin
  • The melanin absorbs energy from the laser light and the heat disables nearby hair follicles, or at least those that are in their active growth phase. (At any given time, between 50 and 85 percent of hair follicles are in this phase)
  • The darker the hair, the more light is absorbed and the more hair follicles are disabled
  • Most physicians repeat treatments every four to eight weeks to allow hairs in the latent phase during the first treatment to become active

2. Results for fair skin types

Patients with fair skin and dark hair have better results:

  • A single treatment can reduce hair by up to 40 percent
  • Three treatments by up to 70 percent
  • Repeated treatments by up to 90 percent
  • Results last for up to a year, and even longer in some people
  • More than 70 percent of patients are satisfied with laser treatments, significantly more than those who are satisfied with electrolysis or waxing

3. Results for darker skin types

  • To date, there is no single laser hair removal system that can remove hair for people with all colours (including blonde, grey and white) and all skin types, though technology is gradually moving in that direction
  • By using lasers with longer pulse durations and performing multiple treatments, doctors can offer patients with darker skin effective hair removal, but the risk of potential side effects — such as swelling, redness, brown spots and scarring — is greater
  • In one study of 31 patients with darker skin, hair count reduction at six months was 35 percent
  • One week following treatment, 48 percent of patients experienced hyperpigmentation (brown spots) in areas treated by the laser. The same study found that using a topical corticosteroid cream 10 minutes prior to treatment and five days after treatment may help minimize side effects

4. Tanning tip

  • Avoid laser hair removal if you have a tan
  • Tanning alters the skin's pigment and affects how it absorbs laser energy, which can lead to increased side effects

Laser therapy can be an effective means of removing unwanted hair from your body. Understanding how it works in general, as well as for your particular skin type and hair colour, can help you decide whether it's the method for you.

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