Laser hair removal

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Hair removal is a must these days. Most women desire the kind of silky legs seen in the adverts and we’d all like to be able to throw on a skirt without worrying about stubble, but most of the hair removal treatments available over the counter are fiddly time-consuming and messy.

Salon treatments such as waxing and sugaring are a good alternative but it can be costly to maintain fuzz free legs all year, not to mention the inconvenience caused by that awkward period where the hair must re-grow before your next treatment. Most women crave more permanent results and dream about never having to pick up a razor again but is there a magic cure?

Recent years have seen light and laser hair treatments emerging as a way to remove or reduce hair on any part of the body. This kind of treatment is very popular with women and men for getting rid of unwanted hair on the upper lip, legs and arms and even coarser hair found around the bikini like or on the chest. Laser hair removal is sometimes described as long term reduction because it doesn’t always remove the hair for good. Its effectiveness depends on the patient but for many it produces excellent long term and even permanent results and can pay for itself by reducing the need for costly depilatory materials.

History of laser hair removal treatment

Like other lasers for cosmetic use, the history of permanent hair removal using light and laser was not very encouraging. Early lasers developed in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s were tedious to use, unpredictable and difficult to control causing some surrounding cell damage. Such lasers often hit the market very quickly after they were developed, without sufficient testing and without properly trained administrators. Treatments marketed as painless and permanent were ineffective and even dangerous.

Since the mid 90’s cosmetic laser technology has improved enormously. There are now many FDA approved types of laser treatment including Intense Pulsed Light and Diode Lasers and Ruby Lasers. Lasers are also used to quickly and painlessly remove tattoos and scaring as well as hair removal and are now suitable for use on most patients even those with darker skin without causing damage to the skin.

Today lasers are used for a variety of cosmetic purposes. They can be a very effective way of treating common eye problems such as cataracts as well as effectively healing the skin and reducing scarring and removing hair.

How laser hair removal works

We are all born with a certain amount of hair follicles in the middle layer of our skin called the dermis. We do not produce more of these follicles during our lifetime so if one dies it does not grow back; this is why some people go bald. Hairs are produced within the follicle and grow and shed within a cycle. The length of this cycle depends on the type of hair, as does the length to which each hair will grow to. The cycle can last for two years to as long as six years! After this cycle the hair follicle has a resting period and then the whole process begins again. The cycle for the hairs on our body is not synced so while one follicle is resting another will be growing.

Laser removal works by emitting light energy directly into the hair follicle. This energy converts into heat which damages the follicle. Laser hair removal works best on dark haired people with fair skin. This is because light energy emitted by the laser is absorbed by dark colours and reflected by light colours. The darker coloured hair follicle absorbs most of the energy and stops producing hairs as if in a resting period. Unlike with other treatments where the hair itself is cut or removed, the effect the energy has on halting the hair growth can be more permanent.

The hair must be visible for it to be treated, therefore multiple treatments are needed because each hair on the body is at a different stage of the growing cycle – not all will be at the visible stage at the time of any one treatment.

The laser hair removal procedure

You will probably be required to attend the clinic for an initial consultation with a dermatologist or laser specialist before your first treatment. At this stage you will be asked about your medical history and you skin will be assessed for suitability for the treatment. You will be given an estimate of how many treatments you will require before you see significant reduction in hair and you will be told the cost of the treatment.

The average patient requires about 8 treatments to see significant hair loss. The time each treatment takes will depend on the area being treated as well as the exact type of laser treatment being used. To treat one leg might take about 45 minutes per session.

You will then be asked to schedule another session for approximately 2 months later. The full course of treatment can last about a year, but for people with fine hair or dark hair and light skin this is likely to be a lot shorter.

The cost of laser hair treatment

Sessions might be charged per hour or per area treated; this can vary depending on the clinic but for treatment of the lower legs expect to pay about £150 per session. Reductions for a course of treatments is usually given so don’t forget to ask about this at your consultation.

Some women have a hormonal imbalance or conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome which can cause abnormal hair growth. Treatment offered on the NHS for these kinds of conditions is usually medication in the form of tablet or hormone injection. Laser treatment is not normally available on the NHS, but might be for patients with extreme hair growth and conditions. If excess hair is causing you distress and affecting your daily life it is worth talking to your GP about the options available to you.

Laser hair removal side effects and risks

Some patients worry about the damaging effects lasers can have on the surrounding skin cells as well as the hair. Historically the problem with laser hair removal was targeting the hair shaft without damaging the melanin pigment in the surface of the skin. The laser light needs to be on long enough to heat the hair, but not too long to allow heat to spread to the surrounding skin and cause damage. With modern lasers this is no longer a problem for most patients. The darker a patient’s skin, the more difficult it is to treat the hair while avoiding injuring the surface of the skin but a good consultant will be able to advise you on this and will tell you if the treatment is not right for you.

For the same reason it is important that you let a suntan fade before you have treatment. The treatment may also make the skin more sensitive to sun damage so sun exposure should be avoided for four to six weeks after treatment. Lasers can also be damaging to the eyes and patients should always wear goggles when areas on the face are treated.

As with all cosmetic procedures it is important to check the competency of the person providing the treatment as there have been some reports of burns being caused by improperly administered laser treatments. At your initial consultation don’t be afraid to ask what training the person has received in using lasers, how long they have been practicing for and whether they are properly insured. It is also worth asking them whether they know of any laser hair removal side effects that other clients have experienced.

As far as laser hair removal side effects go now, the procedure can involve some mild pain. Research indicates that patients gave the treatment a pain rating of 2 or 3 out of 10 (this has been compared to a rubber band snapping against the skin). Some clinics offer a pain numbing cream that can be applied before the treatment or recommend that you take a pain killer a couple of hours before your session.

After each session you should be able to continue with your day immediately and there are usually no visible side effects of the treatment. In cases of patients with very sensitive skin there can be some redness and slight swelling for a couple of days after treatment but you should experience no further pain.

If you do notice any laser hair treatment side effects then be sure to contact your doctor for advice.

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