Laser hair removal: Zapping unwanted hair
Laser hair removal
Laser hair removal — Overview covers what to expect, possible results and potential complications.
Laser hair removal is a medical procedure that uses laser light — an intense, pulsating beam of light — to remove unwanted hair. Laser hair removal works by passing a light beam through the skin. The laser targets dark pigment, called melanin, in hair. When the light beam hits the hair follicle (where hair growth originates), the intense heat destroys the hair follicle instantly.
In most cases, laser hair removal slows hair regrowth, but it takes several treatments to provide an extended "hair-free" period.
Why it's done
Laser hair removal is used for people who want to remove unwanted body hair. Common treatment locations include legs, armpits, upper lip, chin and bikini line. However, it is possible to treat unwanted hair in almost any area of the body.
Although laser hair removal doesn't guarantee permanent hair removal, it does extend the hair-free period, which can vary from several months to many years. With multiple treatments, long-term hair removal is possible.
Hair color and skin type are the key factors that influence the success of laser hair removal. It's most successful on people with dark hair (brown or black) and light skin. However, it can also be used safely on people with darker skin types. Laser hair removal does not work for white, blonde, light brown or light red hair.
To reduce your risks, choose a qualified, trained doctor who is board certified in dermatology or a similar specialty. Your doctor should meet with you before the procedure and determine your treatment plan. If a physician's assistant or licensed nurse performs the procedure, your doctor should supervise and be available on-site during the treatments. Do not go to a spa, salon or clinic that allows nonmedical personnel to perform the procedure.
Complications from laser hair removal are rare if you go to a qualified doctor. Bleeding during the laser treatment is extremely rare, as is the possibility of infection resulting from treatment.
Side effects from laser hair removal include, but are not limited to:
Talk to your doctor about how these risks apply to you.
How you prepare
Before scheduling laser hair removal, you meet with your doctor to discuss the factors that determine whether the procedure is likely to work well for you. This meeting generally includes:
If you have a tan from sun exposure or sunless tanning products, you must wait until the tan fades completely before undergoing laser hair removal. A tan increases your risk of side effects such as blistering and discoloration. Avoid sun exposure four to six weeks before treatment.
Laser hair removal is most effective if hairs are visible but shaved short. You can shave the day of the procedure. Avoid waxing or plucking the hair and electrolysis three weeks before treatment.
What you can expect
A doctor or trained nurse presses a hand-held laser instrument to your skin. Depending on the type of laser, a cooling device on the tip or a cool gel is used to protect the skin.
When the doctor activates the laser, the laser light passes through your skin's surface to tiny sacs (hair follicles) where hair growth originates. The intense heat damages the hair follicle, which inhibits hair growth. It takes several treatments to provide an extended hair-free period.
During the procedure
How long the procedure takes depends on the area of the body involved. A small area such as the upper lip may take several minutes. A larger area such as the back may require several hours.
After the procedure
Laser hair removal procedure
To remove unwanted hair from a woman's upper lip, a doctor uses a laser hand piece equipped with a chilled tip that minimizes skin damage. The woman wears goggles to protect her eyes from damage.
Check with your medical insurance company to see if your policy covers laser hair removal. This treatment is not routinely covered by medical insurance. The cost depends on the number and size of the areas treated, and the time required for treatment.
Studies show that for suitable candidates, hair removal lasers can reduce hair counts by 20 percent to 90 percent. Results vary from person to person, and some people respond better to treatment than others do.
Multiple treatments can prolong the duration of hair loss, but hair regrowth is possible. Expect to undergo six to eight treatments spaced six to eight weeks apart to achieve good reduction of hair and slowing of hair regrowth. Then, you will likely undergo periodic maintenance treatments.
Before-and-after results of laser hair removal
The top picture shows a woman before laser hair removal. The bottom picture shows the results after three laser treatments.
Last Updated: 03/28/2008
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