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Melanin exists in the plant, animal and protista kingdoms, where, among other functions, it serves as a dark pigment. This pigment is visible in human hair and is the primary determinant of human skin color.
The process of laser hair removal works by directing the laser onto the skin, where the laser high-energy light becomes absorbed by melanin located in the hair follicles. Once absorbed, the light transforms into heat, destroying the entire part of the follicle responsible for the growth of new hair.
Due to the fact that a laser targets melanin, the more melanin an individual has in his/her hair, the more effective a laser will be.
Photoepilation destroys the hair follicle using controlled flashes of light. The light used is very powerful. The hair absorbs the light projected by the device and the intense heat destroys it. This heating is painless. In order to obtain the best results with photoepilation, we need all the light energy sent by the machine to be absorbed by the hair and not by the nearby tissues.
Due to the fact that a laser targets melanin, the more melanin an individual has in his/her hair, the more effective a laser will be. Therefore, someone with gray, red, or blonde hair is not as good a candidate for laser hair removal.
In addition, the more melanin in your skin, the darker it looks. Since the laser does not distinguish between melanin in hair and melanin in skin, the more melanin present in the skin, the more the laser is going to target the skin rather than the hair. Therefore, someone with darker skin is not as good a candidate for laser hair removal.
Light skin and dark hair are the best combination for laser hair removal. The more closely an individual's skin tone matches his/her hair color, the less likely he/she is to benefit from laser hair removal.
It is important to note that laser hair removal is a non-invasive method of photoepilation, which does not require needles or chemical creams. The advantages of laser hair removal include:
- The technique is safe if performed properly
- It is considered to be painless as compared to other methods
- Many consumers have experienced long-lasting hair removal or even permanent hair reduction
- The method is very useful for removing hair from large areas such as backs or legs.
Although laser hair removal is an excellent treatment option, some patients may experience hair regrowth. However, this hair is usually finer and lighter in color. Possible side effects, though very rare, may include damage to the surrounding healthy tissue in the form of scars, burns, redness and swelling. The process is also not as effective on unpigmented (gray) hairs and red or blonde hair.
Any area, except adjacent to the eye, where there is excess hair can be treated with laser. The most common areas requested are the face, upper lip, neck, chest, periareolar, underarms, back, abdomen, bikini line, and legs.
Because the laser energy is absorbed in the hair follicle by producing heat, there is some sensation when performing laser hair removal. Certain areas of the body hurt more than others during laser hair removal. In addition, patients with very thick, dark hair may experience more discomfort than those with thin hair. This is because the thicker, darker hair will absorb more of the laser light during any given treatment. Generally, the hair becomes thinner and less dense after each subsequent treatment. Therefore, the most discomfort is usually experienced during the first treatment.
The discomfort associated with laser hair removal varies considerably between individuals, and is a function of the patient's skin type, the laser being used, the thickness and density of the hair, the area of the body where the hair is being treated, and one's ability to tolerate or feel pain. In some situations, numbing creams can be used. However, numbing creams partially eliminate the ability of the patient to report on the discomfort associated with a treatment, which may be an indication of how this treatment compares with previous treatments.
One of the main advantages of laser hair removal procedures is the speed of the treatment in combination with the long lasting results. For example, to remove hair from the back with laser hair removal usually takes about an hour. In contrast, a full back hair removal with electrolysis can take up to and over 125 hours.
Laser hair removal is accomplished in a series of sessions generally done monthly or every other month. The average number of sessions to achieve over 80 percent permanent hair reduction in 80-90 percent of good candidates is approximately 4 to 7 sessions.
In between these monthly sessions, some of the hair will regrow as hairs cycle. Hairs that may have been dormant during your previous laser hair removal session may now be in the growth phase. This is where the need for multiple treatment sessions arises. Multiple sessions ensures that all the hairs are subjected to the treatment. These hairs may be shaved by the patient between sessions if desired.
Many patients find that maintenance sessions done once or twice a year are ideal for keeping hair at bay after completing the initial treatment protocol. In a minority of patients who are good candidates, hair loss may only be temporary and complete regrowth may occur. The complete regrowth is generally seen in white or blond haired patients.
While the process in itself is considered to be very safe, individuals opting for laser hair removal should preferably follow the following pre-treatment tips:
- Laser treatment should be avoided when you have a suntan or sunburn
- Though not necessary, shaving before the treatment quickens treatment time. Shaving should be done to a degree where only a shadow or stubble remains visible
- Bleaching or plucking should be stopped for a couple of weeks before the treatment
- If you are likely to suffer from cold sores or have genital herpes, start taking appropriate medicines before the treatment
In most cases there are no side effects associated with the procedure.
However, pigmentary change of the treated skin can occur, including either dark or light areas. Pigmentary changes may persist for months, but are almost always temporary. They are very rare in patients with fair skin, who are untanned. Blisters and burns are rare, but occasionally occur, particularly in patients with dark skin.
Light skin makes laser hair removal easier to perform. Fewer treatments are required, and better, faster results are obtained. People with darker skin can be treated, but results are slower, more sessions are required, and greater expertise is required on the part of the laser center. Laser hair removal must be individualized for each patient.
Dark hair absorbs more laser energy and is, therefore, much easier to treat. Coarse dark hair responds the best to laser treatment. Light hair is more difficult to treat, with blonde or red hair being extremely difficult to treat. Multiple treatment sessions are required, and results are variable. Blonde or red hair usually contains pheomelanin, which absorbs laser energy less avidly than the eumelanin pigment which is present in black or brown hair.
Having a tan increases your risk of side effects such as blistering and discoloration. Due to the fact that on tanned skin, the laser tends to aim at the surrounding skin rather than the hair, scarring of the skin may also occur.
The length of a laser session may range from a few minutes to an hour or more depending on the size of the area being treated. 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.
Since laser tends to treat hair follicles that are in an active growth phase, more than one treatment may be required to disable hair follicles that subsequently enter this growth phase.
During the procedure, laser light will be delivered through a hand held piece attached to a laser console. You may experience a stinging sensation as the laser pulse is delivered. To reduce discomfort, the cooling system automatically removes heat from the surface of your skin before, during and after the laser exposure. You should not need general anesthesia or pain medication, but a topical anesthetic cream may be applied to sensitive areas. The process can take from just a few minutes for an upper lip to several hours for a full back and legs.
Laser treatment itself may cause a slight tingling sensation. Most patients tolerate the procedure well. But because some areas of the body are more sensitive than others, topical anesthesia can be an option. The appearance of the treated area immediately after the laser session will vary from patient to patient depending on the extent of treatment and skin type. Immediate after-effects, if any, are minor. They may include redness and swelling, which disappear in a short time. Most people return to normal activity right away.
During the procedure, you will wear goggles to protect your eyes from accidental exposure to laser light. The procedure causes a slight charring of your stubble. You may notice a strong odor of singed hair, which is normal. Afterwards, you may experience some temporary redness and swelling.
One of the more common problems you see in darker skinned patients, particularly when the hair is curly, is pseudofolliculitis. Pseudofolliculitis is bumps in the area where the hair is, and that problem improves very rapidly following laser treatment. In fact, after a single laser treatment, pseudofolliculitis can improve tremendously even though all of the hair is not removed.