The Thick and Thin of Laser Hair Removal

Steven H. Dyan, MD, FACS

by Steven H. Dyan, MD, FACS | January 17, 2000 @ 09:00AM

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For women, a beautiful hairstyle frames a face. However, a hairy upper lip can denigrate the picture. For men, the virile pursuit of a full Samsonian head of hair can be of religious magnitude. Yet, a full furry back is usually better suited for a hibernating bear. Social, cultural, and ethnic influences differently define attractive hairstyles and aesthetically acceptable locations of hair. For years, European women refused to shed their underarm hair and certain Middle Eastern sects have glamorized facial hair. But for the majority of Americans, excessive fuzz is undesirable and a nuisance. Occasionally, an underlying medical condition or a specific medication may be the cause for the surplus. Assuming the hair growth is natural, as it usually is, and you want it gone, what are your options for removal?

For many years, women have subjected themselves to expensive and inadequate means of hair removal. Waxing is an effective method but needs to be repeated and can be quite uncomfortable. Topical agents generally are not well accepted, can cause allergies and have to be left in place for long periods of time to be effective. Electrolysis, once considered the best technique for long-term reduction, is time consuming, painful, expensive, and needs to be repeated multiple times before lasting results are obtained. Therefore leading to the introduction of the laser as a method of precise, accurate and effective hair removal.

How does the laser work?

The laser is designed to be selective, targeting melanin, the pigment in the hair follicle. However, the marked melanin is only readily available during the growth phase of the hair. Hair exists in three different stages of development and the percentage of hair in the susceptible growth phase depends on the location of the body where the hair resides. For example, on the face at any one time, 70 percent of the hair is in a growth phase, whereas on the leg only 20 percent of hair is in a growth phase. And because hair is only vulnerable to the laser during the growth phase, it may take more treatments at increased inter treatment intervals for the leg to receive an equally effective response as the face. Also important to understand is that melanin, the target of the laser beam also exists in the skin, more so in those of darker skin color or those who have recently tanned. To safely bypass skin melanin during lasering, the outer layers of the skin are chilled. This prevents the superficial melanin from heating up and potentially injuring the skin.

With so many lasers out there which one is the best?

Recent laser technology, including the Alexandrite, Diode and Yag, emit a longer wavelength and are more selective for the hair follicle. Darker skinned individuals may get a better response from the increased wavelength of the diode or Yag laser as opposed to the shorter wavelength of the Alexandrite laser. If you have lighter skin, as long as you are being treated with one of the described lasers you can expect a satisfying result.

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