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Laser Hair Removal: How it Works

Laser hair removal is a popular cosmetic procedure that uses laser energy to destroy hair follicles, resulting in long-term hair reduction. The procedure is most commonly used to remove unwanted hair from the face, legs, arms, underarms, bikini line, and other areas of the body. The laser emits a beam of light that is absorbed by the pigment in the hair, damaging the follicle and preventing new hair from growing. One of the biggest advantages of laser hair removal is that it is relatively painless, and it typically requires fewer sessions than other hair removal methods. In this essay, we will discuss the history of laser hair removal, how it works, the different types of lasers that are used, the potential risks and side effects, and the results that can be expected from the procedure. We will also discuss the cost and maintenance of laser hair removal, as well as the alternative options available for hair removal.

The History of Hair Removal Leading up to Lasers

Hair removal has been practiced by various cultures and civilizations throughout history. Here’s a brief overview of some of the key historical events and techniques:

  • Ancient Egypt: In ancient Egypt, hair removal was a popular practice, particularly among women. They used razors made from copper and other metals, as well as various depilatory creams made from substances like honey, oil and aloe vera.
  • Ancient Greece: Hair removal was also popular in ancient Greece, where athletes would remove all body hair before participating in competitions. They used a combination of pumice stones, razors, and tweezers to achieve this.
  • Roman Empire: The Romans adopted hair removal from the Greeks and expanded upon it, using it as a symbol of wealth and status. They utilized razors, tweezers, and creams made from such ingredients as honey, egg whites, and vinegar.
  • Middle Ages: During the Middle Ages, hair removal fell out of popularity in Western Europe, but it was still practiced in some cultures, such as in the Ottoman Empire, where it was considered a sign of beauty and cleanliness.
  • 19th and 20th centuries: In the 19th and 20th centuries, new hair removal techniques were developed, such as waxing, threading, and electrolysis. The invention of the safety razor in the late 19th century made it easier and safer for people to remove hair.

Understanding How Laser Hair Removal Works

Laser hair removal works by emitting a beam of light (laser energy) that is absorbed by the pigment (melanin) in the hair. This energy is converted into heat, which damages the hair follicle and prevents it from growing new hair. The laser selectively targets the hair follicles while sparing the surrounding skin.

There are different types of lasers used in laser hair removal, each with its own specific wavelength, but most commonly used are diode, Nd:YAG, and alexandrite laser. Different laser wavelength is absorbed by different amount of melanin and skin types. For example, Diode laser has a wavelength of 810nm and is highly absorbed by melanin which making it suitable for people with dark hair and fair skin. Nd:YAG laser has wavelength of 1064nm, which is less absorbed by melanin, making it more suitable for people with dark skin.

The procedure is typically performed by trained and certified practitioner, they usually using a handheld laser device that is passed over the treatment area. The laser emits a series of pulses, each lasting only a fraction of a second. The energy from the laser is absorbed by the hair follicles, damaging them and preventing new hair from growing. The procedure typically takes between 15 minutes to an hour depending on the size of the treatment area.

It’s typically required multiple sessions for optimal results, because hair growth occur in cycles, only hair that are in active growth stage will be affected during one treatment. It’s common for patients to have 6 to 8 treatment sessions, spaced 4 to 6 weeks apart, in order to achieve the desired level of hair reduction. However, the exact number of treatments needed may vary from person to person depending on the color, thickness, and density of the hair.

During the cosmetic treatment, a dermatologist operates on a hand-held device which emits concentrated light of a single, unchanging wavelength onto the target area. In this case, the target area is of course unwanted hair of any chosen body part. When the light particles reach the hair bulb, they get absorbed by hair pigment and transformed into heat.(1) The heat, on the other hand, destabilizes the cohesive forces in the hair bulb so that a hair can fall out. Furthermore, it is not anyhow damaging to the surrounding healthy tissue. Please also note that the targeted structure here is hair pigment – for this reason, laser won’t work on white or gray hair.

It has been calculated that with each session there is an approximately 20% improvement so with the 6th treatment a significant hair growth reduction should be noticed.(2) It is impossible to achieve an immediate complete reduction since hair follicles go through cycles of activity and rest while the light works only on the active ones. Laser makes the body hair grow thinner, slower and scarcer.(3) Furthermore, it reduces the irritation and bumps from regular razor shaving – for the skin it is gentler and for the wallet it is way more cost – effective.

Does Laser Hair Removal Hurt?

Whether laser hurts really depends on one’s personal pain threshold and sensitivity. Relatively it does not cause pain. For most patients, a tingling or stinging sensation will be experienced though.(3) To provide the most possible comfort during the procedure, a cooling and numbing gel or lotion is applied before the therapy starts. Moreover, there are laser devices which simultaneously cool the skin while they remove the hair at the same time.

Preparing for Laser Hair Removal

In general it is suggested not to perform any waxing or tweezing for at least 2 weeks before getting a laser hair removal. Razor and chemical shaving are allowed though.

How long is recovery time?

For most patients, there is no recovery time and they can return to their regular activities right after the treatment. (4)

How Long Does Laser Hair Removal Last

Are There Any Side Effects of Laser Hair Removal?

Every medical procedure does entail some specific side effects nonetheless they do happen rarely. The most common immediate side effect is getting mild redness or swelling in the treated area which should subside within a few days. The other unwanted repercussions include skin irritation, burning and pain.

How Much Does Laser Hair Removal Cost

The cost of laser hair removal can vary depending on a number of factors, including the size of the area being treated, the number of treatments required, and the location of the clinic or spa.

On average, the cost of a single laser hair removal treatment ranges from $50 to $300, depending on the size of the area being treated. For example, a small area such as the upper lip may cost around $50, while a larger area such as the back or legs may cost $200 or more.

The number of treatments required can also affect the overall cost of laser hair removal. Most people require between 4 and 6 treatments to achieve optimal results, and the cost of each treatment can vary depending on the location of the clinic or spa.

It’s also important to note that some clinics may offer package deals for multiple treatments, which can be a more cost-effective option compared to paying for each treatment separately.

It’s important to note that laser hair removal is not covered by most health insurance plans as it is considered a cosmetic procedure. However, if you have a medical condition such as hirsutism, which causes excessive hair growth, your treatment may be covered.

It’s also important to choose a reputable clinic or spa for laser hair removal. While it may be tempting to choose a clinic with lower priced cosmetic procedures, it’s important to consider the experience and qualifications of the practitioner performing the treatment.

Finally, it’s worth noting that there are alternative hair removal methods such as electrolysis, which uses a small electrical current to target and destroy hair follicles, and waxing, which involves using hot wax to remove hair from the root. These methods can cost less than laser hair removal, but they may not provide the same level of permanency and may require more frequent treatments.

Laser Hair Removal References

Laser Hair Removal – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf

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