Laser Hair Removal
There are many options for hair removal, but few are useful for large areas of the body. Shaving and plucking may be effective for small stray hairs or if you have very fine hair, but getting rid of thicker, coarser, darker hair may be considerably more difficult or time-consuming.
Laser hair removal works by targeting the pigment at the root of the hair. This is why laser hair removal tends to be more effective for darker hairs. Delivering a pulse of laser energy to this area destroys the hair and damages the hair follicle and its blood supply, which slows or prevents hair from re-growing. To be effective, hair needs to be actively growing. Each hair goes through a three-phase growth cycle consisting of anagen, catagen, and telogen, but these phases are not synchronized across your whole body. Because the hairs are randomly in one of those three stages, you will need several treatments spread out over time, typically at least 6 months. Each follicle in the treatment area should receive the laser damage during the proper phase of hair growth (anagen).
- Anagen: this is the active phase of hair growth, when the follicle is producing and growing new hair. The growth phase can last for 30-45 days for body hair, or up to six years for scalp hair. 85-90% of hair on the body is usually in anagen at any one time. Laser treatment is most effective during this phase.
- Catagen: this stage of hair growth is a transitional time between anagen and telogen, when the hair follicle begins to shut down. This stage typically lasts 2-3 weeks. The hair stops actively growing, but it may still get longer, because it is being pushed out of the follicle and will eventually fall out.
- Telogen: this is the resting stage of hair growth during which the follicle is quiet and no hair growth occurs. Laser treatment is not effective against hair follicles during this phase, which lasts for 3-4 months.
There are many devices on the market for laser hair removal. The type of device should be selected based on your skin and hair type and is not a generic treatment. The anatomic location, skin type, skin color, hair color and texture, and treatment area size are important factors that should be considered in selecting a laser hair removal device.
The Vectus™ laser is a diode laser designed as a dedicated single use laser to be used specifically for laser hair removal. Diode lasers and long pulsed alexandrite and Nd:YAG lasers are generally the workhorses for laser hair removal. IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) devices are also used but typically are not as specific for hair removal. IPLs are most often used for treating sun damage, uneven pigment or spider veins but sometimes are more effective for red or certain less darkly colored hairs. Generally the various types of pulsed or in-motion diode lasers provide efficient and effective treatment, but the efficacy varies with the design and brand of devices as well as the technique and treatment settings that are utilized. The Vectus laser provides some significant treatment advantages over prior diode laser hair removal systems. Nd:YAG lasers are much less efficient at targeting hairs and thus require much higher energy settings, but they are very ‘pigment friendly’ for darker ethnic skin types and have a role for treating some skin of color patients. Alexandrite lasers still also offer some benefits for certain specific cases as do in very limited cases IPLs and our center offers these as well. The Vectus laser is the only device currently equipped with Skintel™ and for many reasons the Vectus has emerged as the current dominant laser for efficacy, safety, cost and comfort for the majority of our patients.
Because skin and hair pigment play an important role in providing an optimal personalized treatment, the Skintel melanin reader may be used to get a more accurate idea of how much pigment your skin contains—even pigment that may not yet be visible, such as a tan that is still developing due to recent sun exposure. We use Skintel on some of our IPL and laser hair removal systems.
Does laser hair removal work on all hair types and colors?
In general, darker, coarser hairs respond better to treatment than finer or white hairs. The armpit, bikini, and leg areas often show good results, while the upper lip and chin are more resistant to treatment. Men may also opt for laser hair removal for large areas such as the back or chest. We will need to see and assess your hair to give you a better idea of how well it is likely to respond to treatment.
How should I prepare for treatment?
Patients are usually advised to avoid waxing or plucking hairs for 6-8 weeks before treatment. This is because waxing and plucking remove the root of the hair, which is where the laser treatment will be targeted; if there is no hair root, that hair will not be effectively treated. You can shave before your treatment. Patients are also advised to avoid unprotected sun exposure and avoid tanning or tanning beds before treatment, since hair removal works better on hairs that are darker than the surrounding skin.
Does it hurt?
Most patients compare the sensation of laser hair removal to a warm rubber band snap. This may vary based on the type of laser being used, the patient’s pain tolerance, and the anatomic area. Compared to waxing, many say that waxing hurts worse but is over faster. Some anatomic areas are more sensitive than others. Numbing creams are available, but may not be required since there is cooling built into the laser or applied using a cold air machine. After treatment, the area may look and feel irritated and more sensitive than usual for a brief period of time.
How long will treatment take and how many visits will I need?
To answer those questions, we need to see your hair! The best way to address these is with a consultation. The speed of treatment depends on the laser that will work best for you and the size of the area to be treated. The number of treatments depends on how well you respond to treatment, your hair growth cycle and pattern, and other very personal factors. In general, most patients see good results after 3-5 treatments. Treatments are usually spaced a few weeks apart to give your hair follicles time to enter the correct growth phase for treatments.
What should I do after my treatment to care for the area?
Aftercare is similar to waxing. Patients are advised to avoid the sun or swimming until the skin in the treatment area has returned to normal. Sunblock and gentle cleansers are strongly advised. We will discuss these during your consultation or treatment.
Is it permanent?
Laser hair removal offers long-term results. However, patients may occasionally see some sparse regrowth or a few stray hairs. Laser hair removal offers permanent hair reduction, often by 40-80%. However, there is some chance that over time, your hair follicles may repair and start to grow hair again.