Hair today, gone tomorrow: A guide to laser hair removal

For those of us who don’t like having hair in certain places, it can be time-consuming, difficult and expensive to keep skin smooth and hairless. Shaving can be a real pain – a literal one when you accidentally cut yourself with a razor. And waxing means you have to grow out your hair each time before you can wax it off again. That’s why the beauty industry has been looking for alternative, long-term ways to safely remove unwanted body hair.

One new way to remove hair is laser treatments. Yep, that’s right, you can use laser lights to stop hair from growing in unwanted place! But how does that even work? Read on to find out how laser hair removal works, the pros and cons, and whether it might be the solution to your shaving stresses.

What is laser hair removal?

Laser hair removal is a treatment that uses pulses of laser light to damage hair follicles, reducing the amount and density of hairs that grow back. After a number of treatments, the targeted area will be almost completely hair free for a far longer period of time than after shaving or waxing. You can get laser hair removal treatments for almost any part of the body, except the eyelid and surrounding area as this poses a risk of permanent eye damage.

How does laser hair removal work?

woman on epilation treatment

 

A laser hair removal treatment uses a single wavelength of light to target, heat and damage hair follicles in the targeted area. It then takes about two or three weeks for the hairs to naturally fall out. You must not attempt to remove them yourself after treatment, as it can put you at risk of infection. This successfully reduces hair growth, but does not permanently remove hair. It lasts a very long time though!

The principle behind laser hair removal is called ‘selective photothermolysis’. This means matching a specific light wavelength and pulse to affect a particular type of tissue without harming the surrounding area. As light is more readily absorbed the darker an object is, the process works best on people with dark, coarse hair and light skin. Laser hair removal doesn’t really work on very pale hairs. It can also be riskier for people who are tanned or dark-skinned, so it’s even more important to find a highly reputable and experienced dermatologist to make sure your skin isn’t harmed.

What’s the difference between laser hair removal and electrolysis?

Electrolysis is a permanent hair removal process that works by putting a needle inside the hair follicle, using an electric current to destroy the root, then using tweezers to remove the loosened hair. It takes a lot longer than laser treatments, as each hair follicle needs to be separately treated, and in one 15 minute session only 30-40 follicles can be treated. As it’s very slow and can’t cover large areas, electrolysis is mainly used for smaller areas such as women’s facial hair.

Compared to laser hair removal, electrolysis is equally safe for all skin types when done properly. There are some risks, including electric shock if the needle is insufficiently insulated or the operator misses the mark, and scarring if not properly done. For electrolysis it’s just as important to find an operator who is suitably qualified and experienced for the best results and your safety.

Does laser hair removal work?

Hair has several stages of growth, and laser hair treatment can only target hair in a certain stage. This means you’ll likely need several laser sessions to destroy all or most of the hair follicles in a given area. How many treatments you’ll need depends on your hair and skin type and colour, with breaks of three to eight weeks between treatments. Up to 20% of the hair will keep growing, but will be slower and thinner. It can be used to either completely remove or just thin out hair in a given area.

Laser hair removal treatments work best on people with light skin and dark hair, with special types of lasers available for those with tan or dark skin. If you’re pale-skinned with light blonde hair, laser hair removal probably isn’t going to work for you.

How much does laser hair removal cost?

The cost of a laser hair removal treatment session depends on which area you want to be treated. Many clinics do not put full prices on their websites, requiring you to visit them for a consultation to receive a personalised quote.

Here are some example prices for some common target areas for women. Some clinics have different pricing for men. Most clinics offer a significant discount if you pre-pay multiple sessions. Many also discount if you purchase treatments for more than one area.

Laser Clinics Australia Australian Skin Clinics Simply Laser Brazilian Beauty
Underarm $49 $56 $39 $32
Half leg (up to just above knee) $159 $224 $159 $159
Lip or chin $19 $25 – $38 $39 $19
Bikini $49 $74 $59 $45

Source: Respective clinic websites, October 2016

Where can I get laser hair removal?

You should only get laser hair removal treatments from an experienced operator with on-site medical doctor supervision. This can be done at special laser clinics, more general hair removal clinics, and some other beauty procedure clinics. It’s advisable to do your research to find the right clinic for you, and to make sure you consult with a dermatologist before getting a laser treatment.

What are the benefits of laser hair removal?

  • Saves you time and effort spent on regular shaving
  • In the long term may be cheaper than other hair removal treatments such as waxing and bleaching
  • Gives you smoother skin for longer
  • Prevents ingrown hairs

What are the risks of laser hair removal?

armpit epilation

 

After a laser treatment, you may experience irritation, redness and swelling around the treated area, but this should only last a few hours. If any effects persist longer than that, you should see a doctor straight away.

If the laser is improperly applied, the skin can be burned, which can produce blisters. Burns are more likely in sensitive areas such as the bikini line and upper lip. This is a greater risk for those with darker skin. There is also a risk of skin discolouration – affected skin can become lighter or darker.

The darker your skin tone, the greater the risk of it being damaged during a laser hair treatment. The skin pigment may absorb too much of the laser energy and cause damage. A special type of laser may be used more safely on darker skin types. This includes people with a tan as well as those with naturally darker skin. You should ask your dermatologist about the risks for your specific skin type. An experienced, well-trained laser operator should not cause burns to your skin during treatments.

Procedures should be performed by suitably qualified dermatologists, and you should talk to them about the risks particular to your skin and hair type before undergoing treatment.

Steps to ensure your safety include:

  • Asking whether a medical doctor is immediately available on-site during procedures
  • Asking who will actually perform the treatment, and what licensing and training they have
  • Asking whether laser hair removal is suitable for your skin type, hair colour, complexion, body area, and medical history

Is laser hair removal safe?

While the risks may look scary, laser hair removal is quite safe as long as you go to a responsible, qualified and experienced laser operator with an on-site supervising medical doctor. If you have any concerns at all, it’s very important that you discuss them with your dermatologist to make sure that all risks are kept at an absolute minimum.

Should I get laser hair removal?

If you’re looking for a long-term solution to your hairy situation, laser hair removal can be quite effective. However, it’s not suitable for everyone, and a good professional will not proceed if they believe the treatment would be too dangerous for your skin type or just won’t work. It’s important to note that there is no such thing as truly permanent hair removal, but laser is one of the most long-lasting options available.

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