Family Health: Laser treatments achieve long-term hair removal

Most adults have their preferred method for removing unwanted hair. Shaving, tweezing, waxing and other techniques all do the job. But they have an important disadvantage – they must be repeated indefinitely as the hair grows back in.

Two hair removal procedures overcome this problem. Electrolysis and laser hair removal damage or destroy the hair follicle, resulting in near-permanent loss of unwanted hair. However, the laser method has the edge over electrolysis in comfort, convenience and effectiveness.

How it works

Laser treatments work by heating the hair follicle but not the surrounding skin. The laser beam passes through the skin and targets melanin, which is the pigment in the hair follicle. Laser hair removal works best with dark, coarse hair in light skin. For this reason, it’s a good idea to avoid tanning if you plan to have laser hair removal.

Before your procedure, the aesthetician or other provider will fit you with special goggles to protect your eyes from the laser beam. Laser treatments can feel like a tingle or gentle pinch, and your aesthetician may recommend a topical anesthetic to minimize any discomfort.

To perform the procedure, the aesthetician places the hand-held device over the treatment area and activates the pulse of light. The area each pulse covers varies with the device, ranging between the size of a coin to a little smaller than a playing card. That means that small areas, such as the chin or upper lip, can be treated in a few minutes.

This method is also used to treat areas like the legs or back. Electrolysis, which works by passing an electric current through a fine wire into each individual hair follicle, is not practical for treating these larger areas. Electrolysis also is more painful and can lead to enlarged pores if done incorrectly.

What to expect

No hair removal method is completely permanent, since some regrowth is possible. But with laser hair removal you can expect to have far fewer hairs in the treated area, and what remains will be finer, less noticeable and possibly a lighter color.

Since the laser beam targets only the hair, effects to surrounding skin are minimal. You may have some redness or slight swelling that lasts a few days. Be sure to wear sunscreen after your treatment and avoid the sun whenever possible. In fact, it’s best to plan these treatments for fall or winter months.

Most people need four to six laser treatments, approximately once a month, to achieve the best result. If your hair is light colored you will likely need more treatments. Any hair that regrows can be treated in a touch-up session.

Electrolysis has the advantage that it works equally well on light and dark hair and skin types. But reaching your maximum hair removal with this method takes many more sessions than with laser treatments. That means that while each laser treatment generally costs more, the total cost may be equal to or lower than with electrolysis.

Who uses it

Laser hair removal works well for women who want to avoid shaving their legs, armpits or bikini line. It’s also a good option for removing unwanted facial hair on women, which can occur with aging, certain medications and some medical conditions. Men may want to remove hair from their shoulders, back and other areas. And laser hair removal can solve the difficult problem of razor burn for men with sensitive skin on their face.

According to the FDA, the success and safety of laser hair removal can depend on the experience and training of the technician who performs the treatment. Be sure to choose a practitioner such as a licensed aesthetician or a dermatologist for your laser hair removal.