Laser Hair Removal
Thanks to incredible new advances in technology, the traditional methods of removing hair from the body are becoming obsolete. Most of these methods involve painful or tedious processes such as electrolysis or waxing. Laser hair removal provides an effective alternative to shaving and other methods of hair removal. Before deciding on a laser procedure, it is important to become educated about the method, expected costs, expected number of treatments, and any possible side effects or other risks.
Laser treatments use an intense beam of laser light to affect the growth and production of individual hair follicles. The laser light passes through the outer layer of the epidermis to damage individual hair follicles with intense heat. Years of research have provided a way to apply laser light directly to living tissue, targeting only the melanin pigment in the hair. Although laser removal always slows the growth of hair, it is not guaranteed to be permanent. In most cases this type of procedure has been proven as an effective long-term to permanent solution for unwanted body hair.
Many people who are interested in laser removal may be intimidated by the expected cost. The cost for the treatment varies depending upon a variety of factors, including the number of visits needed, the area of the body being treated, the physician performing the procedure, and some other factors. The minimum cost for a single treatment is about $100, and it can cost as much as several hundred dollars. It can be problematic to attempt to give a specific estimate, due to the unique hair growth patterns of each individual. A physician can give a more accurate estimate for your particular situation.
The procedure is most commonly used to remove unwanted hair from the underarms, legs, bikini area, chin, and upper lip. It is possible to remove hair from virtually any area of the body. Most patients require at least three treatments to achieve the desired result. Some people will require more. On average, to achieve an 80 percent permanent reduction of hair will require four to seven visits. For this reason, many laser removal clinics offer a package of several sessions at a discounted rate. The series of treatments are usually done once a month or every other month.
The first step in a laser hair removal procedure is to schedule an initial consultation. At this time, the doctor will spend some time discussing your medical history, medications, benefits, and possible risks of the treatment. The doctor will also discuss your expectations and give you specific advice about your probable outcome. Your individualized treatment plan will be setup and estimated costs will be provided. The doctor may also take some photos to provide clear before-and-after images.
Certain preparations are important before the hair removal procedure. Avoid the sun as much as possible as soon as you have scheduled your initial treatment. A suntan can increase the risks of blistering and discoloration. If you have a tan, let it fade completely before your procedure. It is also important to avoid waxing, plucking, or other methods of hair removal. These methods work by disturbing the hair follicle, and can interfere with the effectiveness of your laser procedure. Shaving is acceptable, and may improve results.
Due to the natural hair growth cycle, some of the treated area can be expected to regrow some hairs between monthly visits. This is the main reason for needing multiple treatments. Some hairs may be in their dormant phase during a particular treatment and will not be treated until in the growth phase. Shaving the hairs in between sessions is acceptable.
Once the initial series of treatments is completed, regular maintenance sessions can be performed once or twice each year to maintain the desired result. For some patients, the hair is only removed temporarily. These patients experience complete regrowth of hair at the treatment site over several months to a year. This is most commonly experienced by patients with very fair hair and skin tone.
Laser removal procedures are not particularly painful. The laser light used to destroy the hair produces heat, and many patients feel an uncomfortable hot sensation or minor pain comparable to being snapped with a rubber band. The treatment can cause more discomfort on certain areas of the body, as well as in patients with dark, thick hair. This is due to the fact that darker, thicker hair will absorb more of the laser’s light and heat. Most discomfort is felt only during the first treatment, after which the hair becomes thinner.
Other than skin type, hair texture, and body area, discomfort will depend on your personal tolerance for pain. Only a very small percentage of patients are unable to continue the treatment due to pain. Some physicians will use a numbing cream to help the patient avoid discomfort. However, it is important that you do not apply any numbing cream yourself without discussing it with the doctor first. The appropriate laser settings are sometimes based on the patient’s discomfort. In addition, some numbing creams contain ingredients that can be harmful when applied over large areas of the body. Let the physician apply any topical anesthetic as needed during the procedure only.
Risks and Side Effects
Laser procedures are rather advanced and have very few side effects. It is important to understand that any type of laser treatment, including hair removal, can cause scarring. The risk of scarring from the hair removal treatment is very small. The risk can be further reduced by a knowledgeable, skilled, and experienced technician who is supervised by an attending physician.
Other possible side effects include hair regrowth that is resistant to the laser following initial treatment. Often this new hair growth is lighter and finer than previous growth. Temporary skin irritation or scabbing is possible following the treatment. Many patients experience a temporary skin discoloration immediately following the procedure. This discoloration is not scarring. The discoloration is almost always temporary and will subside within a few weeks. In very rare cases, the treatment can cause blistering, scarring, or a change in skin texture.
Patients who have darker skin tones can present a challenge for laser treatment options. The melanin pigment is present at a much higher concentration in the epidermis in darker-skinned individuals. When the laser light is applied to the skin, the melanin in the skin will absorb the laser’s heat and light. This causes the treatment to be slightly less effective, and can also cause injury to the epidermis. For this reason, it is important to select an extremely qualified, highly experienced physician to perform the treatment. Choosing the right lasers and wavelengths can help control damage, as well as choosing a proper method of cooling the surface skin to avoid injury.
A skilled practitioner is a must, and not only for patients with darker skin tones. A number of variables can present themselves throughout the course of treatment, and only an experienced physician has the knowledge to be able to successfully manipulate these issues. Using the wrong device or the wrong setting on the wrong patient can cause burning, blistering, scarring, and other damaging side effects.
It is crucial to select a board-certified doctor specializing in cosmetic surgery or dermatology who has prior experience with laser hair removal. In many clinics a physician assistant or licensed nurse will perform the procedure. If this is the case, ensure that a doctor will be available on-site to supervise the treatment. Salons, spas, and other facilities sometimes allow personnel who have no medical training to perform the treatment. It is best to avoid these situations.