If constant shaving is a bother—especially during the skin-baring summer months—laser hair removal may offer a permanent solution. However, experts say it’s important to be realistic about the procedure.
“The treatment should be looked at as hair reduction, not hair removal,” says Tonya Pollak, a nurse with Synergi MedSpa. “It’s impossible to guarantee no hair permanently in an area. Keep in mind, the body is programmed with hormones to be hair-bearing in certain areas. For instance, it’s possible to need a touch-up treatment a year or two later.”
Dr. Richard Moore, medical director of The Lifestyle Center, agrees, noting that the end-point for hair reduction typically is 60 to 90 percent from baseline after five to 10 treatments. “Laser hair removal is an effective procedure for reducing unwanted hair in most individuals. However, people with very fine and/or poorly pigmented hair follicles will not respond as well,” he says. “Additionally, it is reported in the literature that 3 to 5 percent of people will not respond to the laser procedure as expected.”
Because people respond to the procedure in different ways, the technologies used are adjusted based on individual needs. At Synergi, for instance, three different lasers stand ready to reduce unwanted hair. Determining which laser to use depends on the natural skin pigment. “Those that have fair skin can use a laser that is more effective in fewer treatments and tends to be stronger. Those that have more pigment would need to use a laser that is safer for their skin tone but then would require more treatments to achieve the ideal result,” Pollak says.
Pigment, or melanin, which gives the skin and hair its color is the substance that responds to laser treatments. Because of this, it’s best to avoid sun exposure prior to a laser hair removal procedure, Moore says. “When the skin is tanned, there’s an increase in melanin and less aggressive settings must be used or the client may even be told they are not a good candidate for the procedure at this time,” he says. “Following the procedure, sun exposure should also be avoided as it may result in hyper-pigmentation of the treated area. Sunblock should be worn, as well.” For this reason, some people may find it best to schedule treatments for fall or winter when the skin is less likely to be exposed to direct sunlight.
“We ask people to shave the area to be treated two to three days prior to the treatment and to commit to keeping this area out of the sun before treatments begin and during the course of hair reduction treatments,” Pollak adds. “This will allow the laser to see the hair which has pigment, such as black or brown hairs, and not affect the skin. Laser cannot treat white or very blond hairs as there is not enough pigment or color to these hairs.”
After a topical numbing cream is applied to sensitive areas, the laser is passed over the area. “One might have some pinkness and puffiness for one to six hours,” Pollak says. “You may shave the area in three days. The treated hairs will grow up out of skin and fall out in two to three weeks, leaving the area hair-free for two weeks. Then the next hair cycle begins to grow at week four to five. The next treatment would be in approximately six weeks.”
By pursuing a full course of laser hair removal treatments, next summer could be razor-free.