Laser hair removal has come a long way in recent years, with advancements in technology making it most suitable for all hair and skin colors. If the prospect of permanent hair removal (and smooth skin) appeals, you might want to start investing now given that winter is the ideal time for laser treatment.
Who is a good candidate for laser hair removal?
Several factors go into making someone a good candidate for laser hair removal. To understand these factors, it’s important to understand how lasers work when targeting hair. Lasers are a type of pulsing light that is very intense. This light targets the melanin in the hair, which is what gives the hair its color. By targeting the melanin, the laser is able to break down the hair follicle at the end of the hair under the skin without damaging the skin. With that in mind, your specific hair and skin types make a difference in the effectiveness of laser hair removal.
Hair and Skin Type
The ideal hair type for laser hair removal is dark and coarse. However, with the changes in technology, laser hair removal can work on some types of lighter hairs. The best candidates for this type of hair removal are those who have pale skin and dark hair. The contrast between light skin and dark hair allows the melanin to be easily targeted. Blond, fine hairs cannot be targeted by the lasers and therefore, cannot be removed with this method. Waxing is a better choice for light-colored hair. Individuals with darker skin tones or who tan easily may have a harder time getting results from laser hair removal. This does not mean there aren’t options. More recent laser hair removal technology can target lower contrast hair to skin tone types. The Fitzpatrick table is used when evaluating hair and skin types for laser hair removal.
When deciding if laser hair removal is right for you, consider the treatment area. Laser hair removal is excellent for larger areas of skin such as underarms, legs, arms, and back. This does not, however, rule out facial hair such as the upper lip and chin or the bikini area, all of which see good results from lasers. Laser hair removal is best for groupings of hair that need to be permanently removed over the occasional hair here and there.
How does laser hair removal work?
“Laser hair removal works by targeting hair at the root to damage the follicle. The light energy from the laser enters the skin and is absorbed by melanin surrounding the hair follicle. Melanin is naturally present in the hair follicle, and when targeted with the laser in the right stage of hair growth, the hair follicle overheats damaging the bulb, preventing further hair growth. The process is called photothermolysis. “For best results, a course of laser hair removal treatment is recommended to ensure all hairs are caught over differing hair cycle growths.”
Which lasers are best for use on black skin?
“For the industry as a whole, older equipment and technology might not be able to treat all skin colors, so it’s important to check which technology a salon is using. Most should display whether the technology can treat all skin types including black, dark and Asian skin. “Advances in laser technology mean it is now possible to produce excellent and safe results when treating dark skin. Older energy sources, like IPL and short wavelength lasers, are not generally recommended for dark skin, which has led to some people incorrectly assuming laser hair removal generally is unsafe. However, the experience of the practitioner and the clinic is crucial when performing laser hair removal on dark skin to ensure safe treatment and excellent results. This is because the laser must target the melanin-containing root of the hair bulb and not the surrounding dark skin, which could lead to unpleasant reactions.
How laser hair removal works
Laser therapy uses high-heat laser beams as a mild form of radiation. During the process, these laser beams heat up and damage your hair follicles. Your hair follicles are located just below the skin. They’re responsible for producing new strands of hair. If the follicles are destroyed, then hair production is temporarily disabled. By contrast, tweezing, shaving, and waxing all remove hair above the surface. These methods don’t target hair-producing follicles. The AAD deems the following areas as appropriate for laser hair removal:
face (except for the eye area)
This form of hair removal works best with darker hair colors on light skin tones. This is because the lasers target hair melanin (color). Even if some hairs aren’t removed, the lightening of their color can reduce the appearance of hair on the skin. Some of your hairs may also shed within a few days of your first treatment session. Overall, laser hair removal is a relatively quick process. Smaller areas, such as the upper lip, can take just minutes. Larger areas of hair removal, like the back or chest, may take an hour or longer. If your dermatologist applies a topical pain-relieving gel (anesthetic) first, you may expect to be at the office up to another full hour. Despite the high success rate of laser hair removal, hair follicles eventually heal. This results in new hair production. To ensure the best results possible, you will need to undergo multiple treatment sessions.
What are the pros?
While laser hair removal doesn’t get rid of hair forever (only electrolysis is FDA-approved for permanent hair removal), it does drastically reduce hair growth—to the point that you can stop shaving altogether.
You can get it done anywhere on the body, and the machine can cover large places fast. Legs, back, underarms, bikini line, stomach, face…There is no limit to the places you can get laser hair removal.
When it comes to pain level, laser hair removal falls somewhere between shaving (painless) and waxing (holy hell that hurts). The technicians use ice to help numb the area before and after the laser treatment. It also gets progressively less painful as treatments continue and the hair becomes finer, says Charles.
What are the cons?
It’s a long process. A session of laser hair removal on the underarms takes less than a minute. However, it takes multiple sessions to see real results (anywhere between three and eight depending on the size of the area), and you generally have to wait six weeks between treatments.
It’s expensive. If you add up how much you spend on razors or bikini wax sessions in your lifetime, it might be worth the $200-$400 per session of laser hair removal. You can think of laser hair removal as a beauty investment.
Since the contrast between the color of the skin and the color of the pigment in the hair follicle is what allows the laser to easily pick out what to target, laser hair removal works best on fair skin with dark hair and worse on darker skin. “In patients with darker skin tones the pigment-rich skin competes with the hair follicle for the laser’s attention,” says Charles. This doesn’t mean it’s not a possibility for darker skin types, but you’ll want to make sure the facility you go to is properly equipped. Certain lasers, like the Nd: YAG, are better at distinguishing between hair and skin on all skin types.
If done by an untrained technician, laser hair removal could leave burns or scars on the skin. Unfortunately, licensing procedures vary from state to state, and sometimes there are no requirements at all. Beware of “laser centers” and make sure to ask where your laser technician was certified to do the procedure. Even doctors who want to provide laser hair removal treatments need further training. “Laser treatment is not taught in medical school, so physicians performing laser treatments also need training and