A common treatment for removing unwanted hair is laser hair removal. Laser hair removal is a medical procedure that uses a laser to remove unwanted hair by targeting individual hair follicles beneath the skin. The laser (a pulsated, focused beam of light) produces enough heat to damage the hair follicle, impeding future hair growth. The procedure does not guarantee hair removal, and may take several procedures to prevent hair growth.
Laser hair removal is commonly used to remove hair on the upper lip, chin, armpits, and legs, but may be used to remove hair in any region of the body. Laser hair surgery is most effective for individuals with fair skin and dark hair. The laser targets the melanin (the pigmentation) in the hair. For individuals with dark hair and light skin, there is a higher success rate in targeting only the hair and leaving the skin unharmed. For darker skinned individuals, the laser may damage the melanin in the skin cells as well as the hair cells. Individuals with blond, white, or gray hair may also find this treatment less effective for similar reasons.
The treatment itself is relatively safe, with very few significant side-effects. The most common side effects are pigment changes and skin irritation. Pigment changes, as mentioned before, are more common in darker skinned individuals. Skin irritation typically follows treatment, and may occur as crusting, scabbing, soreness, or redness. In some rare instances, laser hair removal can cause scarring, blistering, or changes to skin texture.
The risk of pigment changes and side-effects can be reduced by selecting a board certified physician experienced in laser hair removal. You should avoid salons and other facilities offering laser hair removal that do not use medically trained personnel. While these facilities may claim to be certified, only medically trained personnel should perform this procedure. Have your doctor review your medical history and explain the risks and benefits before undergoing this procedure. Before your treatment, make sure to avoid excess sun exposure. A tan might look nice, but it can increase the risk of pigmentation change, blistering, and discoloration. Also, avoid other methods of hair removal (other than shaving), such as waxing or plucking. These methods can disturb the hair follicle and complicate the treatment.
During your treatment, you will be asked to wear goggles to protect your eyes from the laser. A topical anesthetic may be applied to the skin to reduce any discomfort. The doctor will then target the area with the laser, causing damage to the hair follicles. Depending on the area, a cool gel may be placed at the tip of the instrument to prevent damage to the skin. As the laser targets the follicles, the patient may experience irritation. The size of the area will determine how long the procedure lasts. Some procedures may last a few minutes, others may last several hours. Following treatment, keep the area clean, but avoid causing more irritation from overzealous scrubbing. The area should be kept protected from the sun to prevent skin irritation. The area may appear red or irritated, and this is perfectly normal. If something does not seem right, contact your physician immediately.
Chris Gromisch is a Junior Chemistry major at Trinity College.