Laser Hair Reduction
Unlike temporary measures such as shaving, waxing, plucking or sugaring, lasers provide the opportunity for permanent hair reduction. The laser light is gently passed over the skin and is absorbed by the growing hairs, making them permanently smaller and finer (so that they are eventually not visible).
At our clinic we use two different laser hair removal devices chosen to suit your skin and hair colour. As described below, the most appropriate laser hair removal device can be chosen for your skin and hair colour.
Hair has a cycle of a growing phase (anagen), a resting phase (telogen) and a transitional phase (catagen). In order for the laser to have a maximum effect it needs to work on the anagen (growing) hair. At any one time however only a proportion of the hair is in the growing phase and for this reason the laser treatment needs to be repeated several times to see an effect. Usually at least six treatments are needed to see an effect, but sometimes clients show a significant improvement in fewer treatments, and sometimes more. Neither lasers nor intense pulsed light can promise complete permanent removal of all hairs, but they can certainly cause permanent reduction in the quantity and thickness of the hair.
Who is an ideal candidate for laser hair reduction?
The best candidate for laser hair reduction is an individual with thick dark hair and fair skin as the laser can easily target the contrast of dark hair against the white skin. The Alexandrite laser (755nm wavelength) is thought to be the most effective laser for hair reduction and is ideal for individuals with fair to light brown skin. However, for dark skin, the Alexandrite laser is not ideal and can run the risk of burning and pigment change, and darker skin is more suited to the long pulse Nd:YAG laser (1064nm wavelength), which does not run the risk of damaging skin pigment.
Unfortunately as the laser systems work by targeting the dark pigment in the hair, patients with very blond hair or white hair usually respond poorly. These individuals are best treated with electrolysis or a prescription cream called Eflornithine (Vaniqa®), which can reduce the thickness of the hairs. Another technique for treating light hair is to apply a dark dye to the hair twice daily for two weeks to darken the hair, so that it becomes a better target for the laser.
At Dermatology Consulting we have both the Alexandrite and long pulse Nd:YAG, so are able to offer the full spectrum of hair reduction for all skin colours.
Is a test dose important?
It is usually advisable to perform a test dose on a selected area of skin to assess the correct laser settings and to ensure there is no risk of burning or pigmenting the skin. A test dose can be performed on the initial visit. However, if there is a tan, or an artificial tan or recent sun exposure we advise that laser treatment be postponed until the tan has faded. This is because the laser cannot easily distinguish between tan pigment on the top layer of skin (the epidermis) and pigment in the hair, and may damage the epidermis. This means it is also very important to avoid a sun tan or artificial tan on the areas being treated during the course of treatment. Certain medications can also affect how the skin reacts to the laser light, so therefore it is important to be consistent throughout the course of laser treatment and if any new medication is started (including vitamins and herbal remedies), you should inform our dermatologist, or the laser nurse, before the laser treatment is performed. The full treatment can take place four days after the test dose if you have fair skin, and eight days if you have dark skin.
What does the treatment involve?
You may be asked to remove any metal eye glasses or jewellery to reduce the risk of the laser beam being reflected. You will be asked to wear special eye goggles to protect your eyes against possible accidental exposure to laser light. You will see the flash of the laser while you are wearing the goggles, but provided your eyes are covered by the goggles and the laser is not going directly into your eyes it will be safe. The goggles must be kept on for the duration of the treatment.
It is perfectly safe to perform the laser treatment if you have metal implants or medical devices.
Is it painful?
The sensation caused by the laser beam is likened to the feel of a sharp very quick snap of an elastic band against the skin. At Dermatology Consulting we use an air cooler while the laser beam is fired. This cools the skin during the laser treatment and significantly reduces discomfort. It also reduces the chance of burning or adverse pigmentation. The sensation only lasts while the laser shot is being delivered, which less than a tenth of a second, and as soon as the laser shot has been delivered there should be no lasting discomfort.
What will I look like after treatment?
The application of laser energy to the skin results in a pink colour and swelling around the hair follicles which lasts a couple of days. On occasions, crusting in the treatment area will develop, lasting a few days. Minor tingling, similar to a sunburn, may be noted over the first 24-hour period and in such cases paracetamol may be used after treatment. In certain instances, especially in clients with darker skin, temporary pigmentation changes may be noted. Hair may still be visible within the follicles for up to two weeks after the treatment. However, this hair has stopped growing and should fall out within a couple of weeks leaving smooth, hair-free skin.
What precautions do I need to take before and after laser treatment?
It is important not to have a tan or fake tan prior to laser treatment and if you have developed a tan or had recent excessive sun exposure, the laser treatment will need to be delayed until the tan has faded. This is because darkening or tanning your skin will increase the risk of blistering and side effects from the laser treatment. It is also important to avoid excessive sunlight and sun tanning for at least a week, and ideally 6 weeks, after treatment.
If you have a history of cold sores around the face, then please inform Dr Farrell, or the laser nurse, and if necessary antiviral tablets can be prescribed to stop you developing a cold sore flare.
You should inform Dr Farrell, or the laser nurse, of any recent medication you are taking. In particular, you should avoid having any laser treatments for 12 months after taking an oral retinoid (e.g. roaccutane/accutane/neotigason).
We usually advise you not to pluck or wax the area for a couple of weeks beforehand so that there is good target of hair for the laser to work on. On the night before the treatment it is best to shave the hair so it is as short as possible. Do not apply gels, oils or deodorants to the area 12 hours prior to treatment.
How many sessions will I need?
Because the laser needs to act on the growing phase of the hair (anagen phase) and only a portion of hair is growing at any one time, several visits are needed. Most clients need a minimum of six treatments, although some clients only need a few treatments and some require more. The laser hair reduction in permanent, but sometimes a year or two later some patient may decide to have an “top-up” session if they see occasional hairs regrow.
How often do I need to attend?
The ideal time between treatments is four weeks for treatments on the face, and six weeks for treatments elsewhere.