The process of eliminating hair from growing on the body in designated areas has been one that has grown in popularity throughout the last ten years. Using lasers to permanently remove hair is a process which came to replace tedious treatments of Electrolysis which involved putting a thin needle into a single hair follicle in order to deliver an amount of energy that would then be directed towards the base of the follicle to cause damage. It is understood that this process was so tedious due to the amount of time required to eliminate hair growth, one hair follicle at a time. Laser hair removal (LHR) eventually became one of the most common cosmetic procedures after its transition into becoming commercially available circa the late 1990s. One of the first published articles describing this advanced removal process was written by a group at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1998.
When being compared to LHR, Electrolysis had been a more time consuming procedure due to the fact that treatments had to be administered continuously for years after receiving the initial treatment. The process of LHR can be performed in minutes compared to the hours needed to administer Electrolysis. LHR also allows numerous hair follicles to be treated in one sitting rather than one hair follicle at a time. One of the more noticeable feats of using LHR machines is the fast-paced process of repeatedly blasting an ultra-fast laser pulse on the skin of a patient, a process known as Photothermolysis.
Unlike the temporary processes of waxing and shaving, the goal of removing hair follicles by a laser isn’t to temporarily remove the hair but to serve as a permanent solution to stopping its growth by destroying “germ cells” in the hair follicle which produce the hair in the first place. At the beginning of the hair removal process a laser is chosen based on the pigmentation, or melanin, of the patient’s skin. Since lasers are characterized by wavelength (measured in nanometers) these numbers are used in order to determine the type of laser that is to be used in any hair removal process. For example, Ruby or Deep Red lasers (694.3nm) are only safe for patients with very pale skin while Nd:YAG (1064nm) is a near-infrared laser that is made for treating darker skin pigmentations, though it is understood to be effective on all skin types.
As melanin from the hair soaks up energy from the laser, the germ cells in the hair follicle heat up to a temperature reaching over 212 degrees F. A cell begins to fall apart once its temperature approaches 140 degrees F. The laser then zaps the designed area of hair in a series of short pulses in order to keep the heat from spreading too far into the surrounding skin. Cells around the hair are damaged as the hair heats up but the laser turns off before the heat can spread or burn the skin. This process of exposing skin to administered laser pulses is why people who undergo this LHR procedure have to go more than once. Scheduling more than one appointment is necessary in order to permanently damage the hair follicles. It’s necessary for a patient to undergo this procedure every estimated five to ten weeks to permanently stop hair growth.
There are a few risks and normal side effects which include experiencing minor pain, skin damage, itching, pink skin, redness, allergic reactions, and swelling around the treatment area or swelling of the hair follicles with the two most common side effects being acne and skin discoloration. These risks can be greatly reduced by receiving hair removal treatments with the appropriate laser type for the individual’s skin pigmentation and treatment region.
LHR is safe as long as it’s done correctly. The body can handle small doses of radiation at a time however receiving more than the necessary amount of laser pulses in a given session may result in skin discoloration such as white spots or hypopigmentation. The treatment works best on those with low amounts of melanin and dark hair since melanin in the hair draws radiation, or the attention, away from the skin.
Within the United States, LHR is an unregulated procedure that anyone can do. In certain locations, only doctors and doctor-supervised personnel are able to perform the procedure while permission is often given to licensed professionals such as regular nurses, estheticians, and/or cosmetologists. The process of using a laser to permanently stop hair growth is one that is widely practiced within clinics and personal homes. Devices designed and sold at a retail price for consumer self-treatment are available in select stores both on location and online.
If you are licensed professional wanting to learn more about laser safety for similar cosmetic or medical procedures: be sure to visit www.lia.org for more information on LIA’s upcoming course on Medical Laser Safety Officer Training.