Last week, as I was thinking about what to write for this week’s newsletter, I realized that I have not yet written about laser hair removal, which is actually my most common procedure. So far, my hair removal patients are predominately female, and frequently have unwanted strands expunged from areas including the face, underarms, forearms and legs. However, more males are coming in for removal of back and chest hair.
Laser hair removal is a medical procedure that uses laser light to eliminate unwanted hair. Of course, waxing and plucking have the same purpose, but the effects are far more painful and often times not permanent. Instead of just removing strands of hair from the skin’s surface, the laser light passes through the skin and targets the pigment melanin in the hair root. When the laser beam hits the root, provided the hair is in its active growth phase, the intense heat produced by the laser destroys it. Once the root is destroyed, the hair is killed permanently and never grows back. Think of it this way: once you go laser, you won’t need a razor.
Since only 10 to 15% of hairs in a particular area of the body are actively growing on any given day, multiple laser treatments are needed to remove unwanted hair indefinitely. Hair color and skin type are important factors in the speed of success of laser hair removal. This treatment is most successful in the darkest hair, and is a much more prolonged process in grey, blonde or red hair.
Laser hair removal is also most effective when the hairs are growing and visible. Therefore, it’s okay to shave the unwanted strands prior to treatment, but waxing or plucking them are not recommended. In fact, for many patients who pluck hair daily, they are frequently amazed by much hair they need treated when they stop plucking. From now on, you all can consider waxing and plucking a thing of the past; so 20th Century, if you will.
When the laser light produces the heat at the root, the patient feels a snapping sensation, like a rubber band hitting their skin. This sensation is most intense in body areas where the hairs are most concentrated (such as the chin) and where the nerve endings are most plentiful (such as the upper lip). There is a brief moment of pain, but it is very quick and goes away as fast as it came. In fact, it is probably more painful to wait for that feeling than it is to actually receive it. Don’t worry, though. Just remember that the long term advantages of the procedure far exceed the short term consequences.
I recommend that all hair removal patients be pretreated with an anesthetic cream for 30-60 minutes prior to the operation. As with all laser procedures, the patient wears special protective goggles. Immediately before the excision, I place a cold gel on the hair removal target area to cool the skin because the laser does generate a lot of heat. The tip of the laser probe is also cooled by a cold solution circulating through the tip. When the procedure is complete, I place a cold compress over the treated area to reduce the redness of the skin produced by the laser heat. This redness is temporary and is generally gone in the next several hours at most.
Over the next several days following the procedure, some patients will notice hairs actually falling out, especially in areas where the hairs are most dark and coarse. Over the next several weeks and especially as multiple procedures are done, there will be noticeable reduction in hair growth in a particular zone.