Laser Hair Removal

Swimsuits are on the store racks, and the weather is finally warming, which is why many a thought is turning to what else is soon to be revealed…skin. Let the shaving begin!

If that prospect doesn’t thrill you, then you might want to consider your alternatives. Waxing and depilatories are options, but they require repeating since hair returns. If you never want to shave again, you may lean toward the more permanent solution of laser hair removal. But as we enter summer, there is one little catch.

“No tanning,” says Kym Palmier, clinic manager for United Laser Centers’ St. Louis location. “In fact, the lighter the better.” This is a mantra repeated by laser hair removal specialists across the area. Committing to a complete course of laser hair removal treatments, which span months in order to treat hair through all its growth cycles, requires a promise to shun sun, tanning booths and self-tanners for the duration.

Lasers destroy hair follicles by following the hair’s pigment from tip to root. Skin that contains a lot of melanin, the substance that causes tanning, “confuses the laser,” explains Mary Inman, a medical esthetician with St. Louis plastic surgeon Dr. Paul Rottler. “The light is scattered by a lot of melanin, and the treatments don’t work as well.” She adds that self-tanners, which react with the skin’s top layer to create more melanin, have the same negative effect as a natural tan.

It’s this melanin effect that can have dark-skinned people wondering if lasers really are a ‘perfect’ hair removal solution. However, technologies are improving, and better hair removal is now possible for darker-skinned individuals through intense pulsed light or long-pulse YAG lasers. “We still can’t do laser removal of blonde, grey or white hair,” notes Inman, due to the fact that the hair itself does not contain enough pigment to allow the laser to target the hair follicles.

Despite these constrictions, laser hair removal remains popular for many people, especially those seeking to destroy facial, underarm and bikini-line hair. “I have plenty of clients who have no problem being tan-free,” Inman says. “After all, tanning damages your skin, so it’s not a good idea anyway.” She adds that clients who insist on a spray tan, usually for a special event between treatments, must make sure the tan is completely gone before returning to the treatment regimen.

Experts agree that there can be additional benefits to laser treatment, particularly around the bikini area. Laser hair removal, especially in this sensitive location, can reduce skin irritations associated with ingrown hairs and sebaceous cysts, which are small, fluid-filled bumps just beneath the skin’s surface.

When searching for a laser hair removal clinic, there are three main points to keep in mind, says JoAnne Davis, director of clinical training for American Laser Centers. “Cheaper is not always better, the procedure should not hurt, and the process will take months,” she says. She also advises asking questions about the credentials and experience of the person behind the beam. Davis notes that the time between treatments may vary depending on the area being treated. She recommends 10 to 13 weeks between bikini-line and underarm treatments and seven to 10 weeks between facial hair treatments.

“Laser hair removal is safe and effective for both men and women and is one of the most popular non-invasive cosmetic procedures in the U.S.,” Davis says. “It’s a painless, simple way to relieve yourself from the time, discomfort and cost of a lifetime of shaving, waxing or using depilatory creams.”