Other Associated Terms: Phototricholysis, Photoepilation.
While most of us have bodies that are covered in hair, only a small percentage of it is readily visible. However, some people have dark hair that can be visible in unwanted areas of their body. Unwanted hair in areas such as the back, breasts, legs and other places may lead to feelings of self-consciousness that can be addressed by a process known as laser hair removal.
When hair removal, using lasers, was first introduced (late 1990’s), it was limited to dark-haired, light skinned individuals. This was due to the use of diode and alexandrite lasers. As a result, laser hair removal was unavailable to dark skinned individuals, since those early laser were incapable of distinguishing between hair follicles and dark skin pigment – which led to skin burns. With the advent of newer technology, advanced versions of IPL and the invention of YAG lasers have given the opportunity of laser hair removal to dark skinned, dark haired individuals.
Initially, electrolysis was used to permanently remove unwanted hair. With electrolysis, a thin electric probe was inserted into each hair follicle that was to be removed. The electric impulse would then cauterize blood vessels and destroy the ability of that hair to grow. Once the hair was removed from that follicle, it would be unable to re-generate.
The benefit of laser hair removal over traditional electrolysis is that it’s a much shorter procedure. The laser targets the hair follicle and impedes growth or eliminates the follicle altogether. Being a faster, virtually painless treatment, patients can return to normal activity very soon after the procedure. This serves to make laser hair removal a very popular hair removal method, and its’ popularity is continuing to grow, every year.
Ideal candidates for laser hair removal are those who wish to enhance their appearance by removing unwanted hair. Other reasons can include; having smoother skin appearance, eliminating the hassle and expense of temporary measures (such as shaving) and increasing self-esteem and self-confidence. However, prospective patients should have realistic expectations of the procedural outcome and understand its’ benefits and limitations.
The size of the area will ultimately determine the procedure length, which can last from a few minutes to several hours.
Lasers produce beams of concentrated light and uses its’ energy to affect the hair follicles. Different laser types produce different colors and it’s the color of the light that is the key to its effects.
Before the procedure begins, special protective goggles will be placed on the patient in order to avoid eye exposure to the laser light. Once the procedure begins, the patient will feel some stinging and slight burning sensations from the activated laser. A topical anesthetic may have been applied to lessen these sensations.
During the procedure, the laser light will pass through the skin and will then be absorbed by the pigment within the hair follicles. The light is pulsed long enough to eliminate the pigment which will disable several hair follicles at the same time. Hair will either be greatly hindered or eliminated completely.
In most cases, more than one session is required to maximize results. This usually means 3-4 treatments which are spaced 6-8 weeks apart. However, some patients are satisfied with the results after just one treatment. Even so, it will usually take up to a year to see the final results. This relates to the fact that growth cycles for hair are around 6 months in length. Two growth cycles will see the optimum effects of treatment.
After the procedure, there will be some redness and swelling in the treated area. The sensation can be related to a mild sunburn, most noticeably around the hair follicles. Discomfort should disappear in a few hours. But for some patients, it may take a couple of days for the skin to return to normal. This translates into no real recovery time for the hair removal treatment. Most patients return to their normal activities, afterwards. A few, though, may wish to rest for a few hours. Any crusting or blistering will need to be immediately treated by the laser facility and further procedures may not be advised.
Should you find that the swelling and redness is too uncomfortable, a cold compress can be applied to address these issues. You can either use an ice-water soaked cloth or a cold pack. The facility might also recommend a moisturizing cream to assist in your recovery. Antibacterial cream is not recommended and is not really needed. Using the moisturizing cream on a daily basis is also a good idea in order to keep your skin in good shape for the next treatment.
It’s also best to avoid shaving the treatment area for about 4 days. However, plucking, waxing, bleaching and tweezing are prohibited between treatments. To clean the treated area, only a gentle cleanser is needed. Strong soap should be avoided. Hair may also shed after a couple of days – which is normal and should not be mistaken for hair re-growth. Direct sun exposure should be avoided as this can cause skin irritation. If you need to go outside, you should use a good sun screen.
Risks Associated with Laser Hair Removal:
Laser hair removal, though not very invasive, still carries some risks. There may be some minor side effects which should fade in a few days. These can include some redness or swelling in the treated area.
Even with all its benefits, laser hair removal is not for everyone. Some hair colors may be unaffected by the laser – especially lighter hair shades. This is due to limited amounts of pigment (melanin) in the hair. Certain skin types may also figure into reactions to laser hair removal. Darker or tanned skin may absorb the energy from the laser light which would limit the amount of energy delivered to the hair follicle.
This effect may also damage the skin. Serious laser burns are rare and are usually the result of an inexperienced or unqualified person performing the procedure. This is why it’s extremely important to check the credentials of the person who will be performing the procedure.
Since there are no licensing standards for qualifying those who perform laser hair removal procedures, you will need to use your own discretion. Some things to look for would be whether or not the clinic has the latest equipment for hair removal. You should also be suspicious of discount prices since they may indicate a lower level of quality.
There can also be a risk of a change in skin tone. While not painful, these problems can be quite noticeable. Two issues that can occur are hypo-pigmentation (skin lightening) and hyper-pigmentation (skin darkening). Skin darkening can be reversible while skin lightening is not. These conditions will most often occur in those with darker skin tones.
The average laser hair removal procedure cost is $450. This represents the doctor’s fee and doesn’t include other associated expenses, such as facility fees, etc. The cost will also be affected by things such as the experience of the doctor, the region (city/state) where the procedure is performed and whether multiple treatments will be needed. But the main factor that will affect the cost of treatment is the treatment area, itself.
While it can be stated that he average cost is $450, a smaller area (such as an upper lip) may cost only $50-$175. But a larger area (like an entire back) may cost up to $1,000. The bottom line is that the area size, hair density, thickness and number of needed treatments will determine the exact cost.
Things to Discuss with Your Doctor During Your Consultation:
In order to make an informed decision regarding laser hair removal, an initial consultation should be scheduled with your doctor. There will be several things that you will wish to discuss at that time.
These can include; are the results that I expect realistic? Is laser treatment my best option for hair removal? How is the procedure performed (type of laser, etc.) and where will it be performed? What is the doctor’s experience in performing this procedure? What are the risks involved? What percentage of patients have experienced complications? What is the policy regarding repeating or correcting treatments that do not meet agreed upon goals? What are the costs associated with the procedure (including all miscellaneous expenses)?
There should also be numerous before and after pictures of clients for you to view. Since most medical insurance companies will not cover the costs of this procedure, you may want to inquire about financing options.