While there are several ways to get rid of unwanted hair, lasers are the most effective way to remove them permanently.
There are several methods to remove unwanted hair: shaving, tweezing, depilatory creams, hot waxing, epilating and electrolysis. With most of these methods, the hair will eventually grow back. Shaving, waxing and epilating also tend to produce ingrown hair, as cut or broken hairs have sharp edges that pierce the walls of the hair follicles, causing inflammation and ingrowing.
Laser or light-assisted methods of hair removal treatments are more permanent. Some hair may regrow, but the new hair will be finer and less dense than it used to be. Laser treatments are also less likely to result in ingrown hairs. According to dermatologist Dr Wong Su-Ni, “My patients who have tried both laser and IPL hair removal invariably prefer laser hair removal.”
Laser hair removal works by targeting the pigment within the hair follicle. The energy delivered heats up and destroys the hair follicle. Each pulse of the laser takes a fraction of a second and can treat many hairs at a time. This technique is generally more effective on fairer skin with dark, coarse hair. However, advances in technology have made laser hair removal an option for people who have darker skin.
Certain laser systems, such as the Nd:YAG laser (GentleYAG™/GentleMax Pro™), are safe and effective on dark skin. This system does not require gels or direct contact with the skin and is therefore able to get to difficult-to-reach areas (ears, nostrils, pubic area) that cannot be treated with light-assisted systems such as intense pulsed light (IPL – see box story). For lighter skin, the Alexandrite laser (GentleLase™/GentleMax Pro™) hair removal system is fast (visible results in as few as two to three sessions for areas such as the underarms), painless (there is a patented cold spray release to numb the skin and prevent burning) and effective.
These treatments work only on actively growing hairs. Most strands of hair are in a resting phase at any one time, and since they take turns to cycle through the growing phase, multiple treatments are required. The recommended interval between treatments varies according to the site.
The most common side effects of laser hair removal are redness, skin irritation and temporary darkening or lightening of affected skin. Skin burns primarily affect those who have darker skin, especially if an inappropriate laser or an overly aggressive setting is used.
Dermatologists vs Beauticians
Here are four reasons why you should always visit a dermatology clinic rather than a beauty salon when considering hair removal:
Equipment: Lasers, which are higher in intensity at the effective wavelength and more efficacious at the right setting, can only be operated by trained and certified medical doctors such as dermatologists. Beauty salons only offer IPL hair removal, which often require more treatments and is less safe for dark skin.
Safety: For patient safety and proven efficacy, most dermatologists invest in FDA-approved laser machines, which have passed stringent clinical trials. Dermatologists, who are trained in the structure and function of skin, are best placed to recognise and treat skin complications arising from laser procedures.
Operator-dependent factors: How well a laser treatment works depends not just on the machine, but also on the laser settings and technique of the operator. In a dermatologist’s clinic, laser treatment is performed by the dermatologist; in the case of IPL, it is sometimes conducted by a trained nurse under the supervision of the dermatologist. Dermatologists engage in continual medical education to constantly update themselves on new developments and treatments.
Per pulse vs area treated: It’s a myth that IPL hair removal is cheaper at a salon, which usually charges per pulse. Dermatology clinics often charge according to the area treated, regardless of the number of pulses or passes done. Doing fewer passes/pulses will result in a lower charge, but will require more treatments or may not even be effective.
“I have seen a patient whose 20 treatments to the underarms at a salon saw no improvement!” stresses Dr Wong. “Based on usage statistics, I have calculated that the average price per IPL pulse at my clinic is lower than that advertised by commercial hair removal salons.”