Ever since mankind escaped the clutches of the caveman lifestyle, it has been tweaking with its appearance. In the name of aesthetics, much has been done to modify our primitive look. Starting off with the sawing off of excess hair to modern laser treatments, it has been quite a ride. But the journey from ape-like creatures to the hairless cover models of Vogue has not been the one that did not involve innovation and stepping out of the restrictive circle of conformity.
Just when the 20th century was about to fly by, it gifted us the phenomenon of laser hair removal and since then, it has taken the cosmetic industry by storm. Laser hair removal is a medical procedure that uses a concentrated beam of light i.e laser to remove unwanted hair. During laser hair removal, a laser emits a light that is absorbed by the pigment melanin which is present in the hair. The light energy is then converted into heat, which damages the hair follicles that produce hairs. This damage inhibits or delays future hair growth.
It had been performed experimentally for about twenty years before becoming commercially available in 1995 and 1996. One of the first published articles describing laser hair removal was authored by the group at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1998. Laser hair removal is widely practiced in clinics, and even in homes using devices designed and priced for consumer self-treatment. Laser hair removal has become popular because of its speed and efficacy, although some of the efficacy is dependent upon the skill and experience of the laser operator, and the choice and availability of different laser technologies used for the procedure. Some will need touch-up treatments, especially on large areas, after the initial set of 3-8 treatments.
With that being said, let us dive into the details of the different types of laser hair treatments available.
i) Nd:YAG Laser: This laser is the best for darker skin One metric for a laser measures its melanin absorption, or the rate at which the laser’s light and heat is taken up by melanin, the pigment in the skin and hair. The Nd:YAG Laser is preferred for hair removal for dark skin because it has a weaker melanin absorption rate. What also makes it safer for darker skin are its long wavelengths which can reach past the melanin in the epidermis to the melanin in the hair. However, because the laser seeks out more concentrated melanin, it is not very effective on fine or white hair tones. Moreover, they also give it the most potential to destroy hair at the papilla, the bulbous structure at the base of the hair follicle. But because of its low melanin absorption, more treatments are required for optimal results. Sadly, treatments with these lasers can also be more painful and less effective on short, fine hair.
ii) Alexandrite Laser: This laser works best for olive skin tones. This laser hair removal machine has a slightly longer wavelength than some of its competitors (though not as long as the Nd:YAG), which makes it highly effective on a wide range of skin tones, but best for olive skin. The downside to this technique is that despite its long wavelength, it still has high melanin absorption, so there is a significant risk for discoloration and burns on all but very light skin. But perhaps the Alexandrite’s most important benefit is an increased spot size and repetition rate, which means it can treat a larger area of skin, faster. This makes it one of the most time effective methods available right now.
iii) Ruby Laser: Since it is the oldest of all techniques, the Ruby has a higher melanin absorption rate than most other lasers on the market, making it the most appropriate for very light skin and light hair removal. Although it is very effective and works very well on very fine hair, due to its high melanin absorption, it is more prone to leave skin discolored and for this reason, it should only be used on very fair skin.
iv) Diode Laser: The Diode laser, one of the newest and most commonly used type of laser hair removal machines today, was designed optimally for fair to medium skin types. The Diode emits both shorter and longer wavelengths, so it boasts good melanin absorption and penetrates deep into the hair follicles. The longer wavelengths also decrease the risk of skin damage. But the thorn to look out for in this case is the novelty of this idea. Since it is very new, there is not a lot of data to support the claims of success.
In recent years, lasers that can be used at home for hair removal have become available. These devices might cause modest hair reduction. But there are no large studies comparing how effective these devices are compared with laser hair removal done at a doctor’s office. Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration considers these home laser hair removal devices to be cosmetic, not medical, which means they don’t get the same level of scrutiny as other medical devices. Currently, there haven’t been large, long-term studies on how safe and effective the home machines are. If you choose to use a home laser hair removal device, follow the instructions that come with the device to help reduce the risk of injury, especially eye injuries.
In order for one to follow through with laser treatment, certain precautions need to be taken. They include staying out of the sun and following the doctor’s advice to sun exposure for up to six weeks before treatment and using sunscreen. One should also avoid any sunless skin creams that tan or darken the skin. Hair removal methods like plucking, waxing and electrolysis can disturb the hair follicle and should be avoided at least four weeks before treatment. Blood thinning medications such as aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs should be shunned. Moreover, trimming and shaving is recommended the day before laser treatment. It removes hair above the skin that can result in surface skin damage from burnt hairs, but it still leaves the hair shaft intact below the surface.
Laser hair removal usually requires a series of two to six treatments. The interval between treatments will vary depending on the location. On areas where hair grows quickly, such as the upper lip, the treatment might be repeated in four to eight weeks. On areas of slow hair growth, such as the back, the treatment might be every 12 to 16 weeks.
During the procedure, the doctor will press a hand-held laser instrument to your skin. Depending on the type of laser, a cooling device on the tip of the instrument or a cool gel might be used to protect your skin and lessen the risk of side effects. When the doctor activates the laser, the laser beam will pass through your skin to the hair follicles. The intense heat from the laser beam damages the hair follicles, which inhibits hair growth. You might feel discomfort, such as a warm pinprick, and you’ll likely feel a sensation of cold from the cooling device or gel. Treating a small area, such as the upper lip, might take only a few minutes. Treating a larger area, such as the back, might take more than an hour.
After the hair removal procedure, you might notice redness and swelling for the first few hours. To reduce any discomfort, apply ice to the treated area. If you have a skin reaction immediately after laser hair removal, the doctor might apply a steroid cream to the affected area. After laser hair removal and between scheduled treatments, avoid sun exposure: both natural sunlight and tanning beds for six weeks or as directed by your doctor. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen daily. For a day or two afterward, the treated area of your skin will look and feel like it is sunburned. Cool compresses and moisturizers may help. If your face was treated, you can wear makeup the next day unless your skin is blistering. Over the next month, your treated hair will fall out. Wear sunscreen for the following month to help prevent temporary changes in the color of the treated skin. Blisters are rare but are more likely in people with darker complexions. Other potential side effects are swelling, redness, and scarring. Permanent scarring or changes in skin color are very rare.
After the procedure, the hairs do not fall out immediately, but you will shed them over a period of days to weeks. This may look like continued hair growth. The repeated treatments are usually necessary because hair growth and loss naturally occur in a cycle, and laser treatment works best with hair follicles in the new-growth stage. Results vary significantly and are difficult to predict. Most people experience hair removal that lasts several months, and it might last for years, but laser hair removal doesn’t guarantee permanent hair removal. When hair regrows, it’s usually finer and lighter in color. You might need maintenance laser treatments for long-term hair reduction.
While laser hair removal doesn’t get rid of hair forever (only electrolysis is FDA-approved for permanent hair removal), it does drastically reduce hair growth almost to the point that you can stop shaving altogether. You can get it done anywhere on the body, and the machine can cover large areas quickly. Legs, back, underarms, bikini line, stomach, face… well, basically any area where there is hair growth can be considered for laser hair removal. And when it comes to pain level, laser hair removal falls somewhere between shaving (painless) and waxing (extremely painful). It also gets progressively less painful as the treatments continue and the hair becomes finer.
There are also certain risk factors associated with laser hair removal methods. The risks vary with skin type, hair color, treatment plan and adherence to pre-treatment and post-treatment care. The most commonly observed side effects of laser hair removal include skin irritation and pigment changes. Temporary discomfort, redness and swelling are possible after laser hair removal. Any signs and symptoms typically disappear within several hours. Furthermore, laser hair removal might darken or lighten the affected skin, but usually temporarily. Skin lightening primarily affects those who don’t avoid sun exposure before or after treatment and those who have darker skin. Rarely, laser hair removal can also lead to blistering, crusting, scarring or other unwanted changes in skin texture. Other rare side effects include graying of treated hair or excessive hair growth around treated areas, particularly on darker skin. Understandably, laser hair removal isn’t recommended for eyelids, eyebrows or surrounding areas, due to the possibility of severe eye injury.
The final say in the matter of laser hair removal is the cost. Like all medical procedures, the price is a note-worthy factor and that determines whether the procedure is practical or not. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the average cost for laser hair removal is $100 to $300 per session. But the cost varies greatly, depending on certain factors that include:
i) Size of the area being treated and time required for treatment
ii) Number of treatments required
iii) Which doctor is performing the procedure
iv) The part of the country where you are having the procedure
Fortunately, here in Pakistan, the prices are greatly toned done to appeal to the consumer market. Here a single laser hair removal session can cost anywhere from Rs 5000 to Rs 10,000 which is much less than what you will otherwise have to pay overseas. Moreover, depending on the size and the area being treated, the cost will definitely vary. Full body hair removal can cost up to Rs 100,000 if you are willing to go for that.
In the major metropolitan cities like Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi, laser hair removal clinics are not an uncommon sight and they oft-times boast impressive teams of highly-trained doctors with foreign qualifications so it is a safe option to opt for such treatments here. With attractive prices and extremely skilled specialists, hair removal procedures in Pakistan are unsurprisingly on the rise.