Hair removal with laser treatments is done with a laser beam that emits light energy to reduce excessive hair growth and with the aim of eventually eliminating it completely. The laser's single-spectrum light produces heat in the melanin pigment in the hair shaft. Melanin is the substance that gives your hair and skin their color. The heat travels through the melanin to the hair follible, a tiny sac inside the skin that grows hair. As the follicle inflames from the laser, it goes dormant and stops hair growth. Laser hair removal can last months or it can last years, as long as a series of treatments are performed.
Lasers are considered medical devices and should only be operated by a doctor or a nurse with special training. Lasers produce a single-color beam of focused light energy that can be trained on a precise target, such as a single hair. The lasers used for hair removal are hand-held devices. There are also laser-like devices used in hair removal, such as intense pulsed light (IPL) systems. These instruments use light from more than one color along the color spectrum and direct it at their target in brief bursts. The choice of whether to use laser or IPL therapy for hair removal is best made by the treating physician.
Laser hair removal is a medical procedure because extensive training and experience is required to operate the laser device properly without harming the patient. The laser beam needs to be precisely controlled and directed at the target for just the right amount of time to keep from causing skin damage. Many laser hair removal instruments have built-in cooling devices to make sure all the light energy goes straight to the hair shaft and without harming the skin. Choosing an experienced medical provider is a must if you're having this procedure.
Laser hair removal is rumored to be painful. The truth is that, while the procedure isn't painless, the discomfort depends on many factors. These may include:
- The area of the body targeted for laser treatment. The more sensitive the skin, the higher the risk of some pain.
- The hair's color and texture. Thicker, darker hair can transfer heat to the surround skin area.
- Whether the treatment is the patient's first, or a later treatment in the process. The first treatment is almost always the most difficult.
- Whether the patient is sensitive to pain. Most patients opt to continue treatment despite any discomfort they experience.
At least three treatments are recommended for laser hair removal patients. A typical series of treatments consists of four to seven sessions, one every month to two months, to produce 80 percent elimination of hair from the treatment area. These figures may vary with individual patients, and once in a while an unlucky individual may find that he or she simply can't get lasting results from the therapy.
Follow-up appointments for maintenance are the norm if you want the hair reduction to last. These may take place once or twice a year, although the frequency varies depending on the patient's individual characteristics. If hirsutism or a medical condition is an issue, maintenance may be needed more frequently.
Patients with darker skin are more challenging to treat than those with light skin. This is because both the skin and hair get their color from a pigment called melanin. Laser hair removal works by heating the melanin in the hair shaft without heating the melanin in the skin, so if the skin is darker than the hair, it will heat up more quickly. Patients with darker skin may still be candidates for laser treatment, and as the technology progresses, these patients will become easier to treat. Selection of an experienced treatment professional is especially important in these cases.
The American Society of Plastic Surgeons lists a price of $429 as the cost of one hair treatment with laser when averaged on a national basis. This price will vary greatly depending on where you live, which clinic you go to, and which area of the body you wish to treat. Clinics are aware of the lack of insurance coverage for this procedure and will work with you to draw up a treatment and payment plan.