The facts about… laser hair removal

The desire to remove unwanted hair has been around for centuries. In Egyptian times wealthy ladies would have slaves plucking hairs individually from body areas to make sure their skin was smooth at all times.

Woman receiving laser epilation treatmentThese days, fortunately, we do things rather differently. We tend to rely on razors or waxing for large body areas and choose creams, waxing or plucking for facial hair.

For most of us, hair removal, or depilation as it is correctly known, is a constant low-grade issue that seems more or less important depending on the season.

When lasers came on the scene in the early 90s, suddenly the face of depilation changed. It was now possible to treat large areas at a time and achieve good, long-lasting results after a series of laser treatments.

So what exactly is laser hair removal? How does it work? Does it actually work at all, and if so how long does it last?

Can everybody have laser depilation?

Unfortunately not. The laser light and the heat it creates is absorbed by the pigment in the hair, so if there is no pigment, as in blonde and white hair, there is no absorption and therefore no effect. Sadly, despite all manner of claims from laser manufacturers over the years, it is still very difficult to target blonde, white or even red hair.

Why do you need a course of treatments, why doesn’t it work with one session?

Hair follicles all go through a three-stage growing cycle:

  1. Hair-follicle cycling. anagen is the growth phase; catagen is the regressing phase; and telogen, the resting or quiescent phase. Vector diagramAnagen, the growing stage. This can last from four weeks on eyebrows to six years on the scalp. The follicles are most deeply placed within the skin and most pigmented during this phase, which is why this is the phase in which laser works.
  2. Catagen, the transitional stage. The lower part of the follicle starts to deteriorate, including the pigment producing cells. The hair is no longer strongly attached to the follicle base and less pigmented so the laser has less effect.
  3. Telogen, the shedding stage. The laser has no real effect as the hair is depigmented at the base and gradually leaving the follicle. We can shed up to 100 head hairs per day.
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Every follicle on the body will go through these stages repeatedly throughout our lives but it is impossible to tell from the outside which hairs are in which stage.

As each hair needs at least one treatment, you need a course of treatments to catch every hair in the growing stage.

Why do some women constantly struggle with facial hair?

In some people, hormones encourage ongoing hair growth on the face which can’t be eradicated completely. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or PCOS as it is commonly known, can cause this problem. It is also associated with weight gain and acne-type skin problems. A monthly laser treatment can really make an improvement to sufferers’ quality of life.

Can all areas be treated?

Yes – although your eyebrows shouldn’t be sculpted using laser treatment. If you have a facial treatment make sure you wear thick metal shields on your eyes – you’ll need to wear goggles if you’re having treatment anywhere else.

Are there any special precautions before and after laser depilation?

  • To avoid skin damage in the form of white marks, avoid exposure to sunlight four weeks before your treatment and four weeks after for darker skin.
  • Because treatments are carried out every four weeks for facial areas and every six weeks for body areas this basically means your skin must be protected from UV at all times during your treatment.
  • Keep your skin free of make up and sunscreen, too. A good laser operative will always prepare your skin prior to treatment.
  • The hairs need to be shaved the day before so that they are visible but have no length to them, as this causes extra skin heating and potential damage.
  • Don’t wear tight jeans after bikini line treatment as your skin needs time to cool down. Aloe Vera gel helps to calm and soothe the skin post treatment.
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Can darker skin types be treated safely?

Yes. All skin types can be treated but different lasers are used in some cases, for safety reasons.

Darker skin absorbs laser light very well indeed as it contains lots of pigment, which is the target in this treatment. So it’s even more important to avoid UV to reduce activity in the pigment cells.

Another type of pigment, Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH), can sometimes – but by no means always – occur after any form of irritation to the skin. This can be in the form of skin injury, acne breakouts, burns and obviously laser treatment. You’ll be checked for this in your medical evaluation before treatment – lightening creams can be used to combat any side effects.

Why do I need a test patch?

Woman getting laser treatmentA reputable clinic would never carry out treatment without first treating a small area to check for adverse effects.

This also gives you chance to see how the treatment feels and look at the skin reactions on a smaller area. Your laser operative may also suggest further test patches before laser parameters are altered as the hair growth changes.

How effective is laser treatment?

On normal hair growth on body areas it is an effective treatment, usually with excellent results. However, nobody can guarantee permanent hair removal with lasers.

Most people who have a course of treatment on underarms and bikini line don’t need to worry about shaving or hair removal going forward.

For ladies with PCOS, it’s more about maintaining the situation in a way that does not impact on their lifestyle in the way that daily shaving does.

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How do I choose a clinic?

These days there seems to be a ‘laser clinic’ on every street corner, but not all clinics are equal. Remember, it is your skin that is being treated so you have a vested interest in getting it right. Don’t be afraid to ask questions like:

  • How long have you been doing these treatments?
  • How many treatments have you carried out?
  • Which laser/IPL system are you using and is it right for my skin type?
  • What special precautions would I need to take before and during treatment?

A good quality clinic will offer you a consultation lasting up to 45 minutes, including a patch test and backed up with written information.

Laser depilation is a real source of freedom for thousands of women who no longer need to think about waxing and shaving. So why not check it out?

About Jo Martin

I’m Aesthetic Consultant at Martin-Stapleton Consulting Ltd. My personal philosophy is ‘ageing gracefully with a little help.’ I think of it as sympathetic restoration.