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Everything You Need to Know About Laser Hair Removal

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For people who are tired of shaving, tweezing, and waxing to remove unwanted hair, Laser Hair Removal has become the preferred option—and a beautiful solution.

How does Laser Hair Removal Work?

During laser hair removal, a laser beam passes through the skin to each individual hair follicle. The intense heat of the laser damages the hair follicle, which inhibits future hair growth. Lasers offer more precision, speed and lasting results compared with other methods of hair removal. Permanent hair reduction is typically achieved in 4 to 6 sessions depending on individual factors, including colour, texture, hormones, hair distribution and hair growth cycle.

Is Laser Hair Removal Right for Me?

While hair removal treatments have been more popular among women, laser hair removal for men is becoming more popular, as men seek treatment for areas such as their chests, backs and shoulders. Laser hair treatments are effective on virtually all of the areas of the body. The best candidates are individuals with darker hair and lighter skin tones, but this treatment is not limited to these factors.

Laser hair removal is effecteive on dark pigmented hair, and will not treat blonde, white, grey or red hair.

 

Laser hair removal will not effectively treat blonde, white, grey or red hair.  In some cases, there may be some limited results for dirty blonde hair if there is enough dark hair pigment; however, best results are obtained with darker hair on lighter skin.  Essentially, the laser energy targets the dark pigment in the hair follicle, and if skin is dark (from natural melanin or tanning), the skin pigment may compete with the intended target (hair follicle) for the absorption of laser energy.

Our laser technicians are trained to use both Nd:YAG and Alexandrite Lasers, allowing them to safely and effectively treat individuals with Fitzpatrick skin types I through V. The Fitzpatrick scale is numerically based from I-VI, with I being the lightest colour skin type and VI the darkest.  In most cases a test patch is completed prior to full treatment to determine the most effective and safe laser type and settings for each client’s skin type and hair properties.

Fitzpatrick Skin Type I – White, very fair, skin that always burns in the sun and never tans. Not a common skin type for laser hair removal since most people in this category have blond or red hair. Typically Irish or Eastern European background. The Alex laser is the best option for skin type I clients because the lack of pigmentation means the skin doesn’t hold heat, allowing for higher laser settings and better results.

Fitzpatrick Skin Type II – White, fair skin that usually burns in sun, but can tan with difficulty. This is a much more common skin type for laser hair removal and perfect for treatment with the Alex laser.

Fitzpatrick Skin Type III – Beige skin that tans to brown and sometimes burns. Many individuals fall into this category as long as they have NOT had sun exposure. The Alex laser is great for skin type III clients. Sun exposure will move a skin type III client to a IV and our Nd:YAG laser is a better option for skin type IV clients.

Fitzpatrick Skin Type IV – Medium brown skin tone is the norm. Tans easily to a dark brown and rarely burns. These are usually treated with the Nd:YAG laser due to a higher amount of melanin in the skin.

Fitzpatrick Skin Type V – Dark Brown, rarely burns and tans easily. Skin type V clients are always treated on a Nd:YAG laser because this setting makes laser treatment safe for darker skin types.

Fitzpatrick Skin Type VI – Black skin, never burns.

Why is Laser Hair Removal more expensive than the other methods of hair removal?

This is a MYTH: laser is NOT more expensive, especially when you factor in the value of your time. There is an up-front expenditure for a series of laser treatments – but clients quickly get a return on this investment, while achieving the goal of permanent hair reduction!

As an example; a client who gets bikini waxes every 5-6 weeks would typically spend the same amount on waxing in about 2 years as it would cost for a series of 6 laser hair removal treatments.  And this client would have spent a lot more of their personal time getting waxing services compared to laser!

What should I do prior to treatment?

Before treatment can begin, a laser technician will see you in a personalized and private consultation to make sure laser hair removal is right for you.  Consultations may be completed in advance or, sometimes, on the same day as the first treatment at the discretion of your laser technician.

  • Please shave the area before your laser hair removal session. The area should be shaved as closely as possible so that laser can target the most energy towards the hair follicle and not waste energy on the part of the hair above the skin’s surface.
  • Hair cannot be bleached, plucked or waxed for 6 weeks prior to treatment.
  • If you have a history of HSV (cold sores or herpes outbreaks) close to the area being treated, it is recommended that you take antiviral medication before the treatment.
  • Avoid self-tanners one week before treatment and unprotected sun exposure 4 – 6 weeks prior to treatment.  Use quality SPF 30+ daily on sun-exposed skin that is to be treated. TAN SKIN CANNOT BE TREATED due to possibility of hypopigmentation (white spots)!
  • If you have a history of hyperpigmentation, you may be prescribed topical agents to apply 4 weeks prior to treatment to prevent any hyperpigmentation.
  • You will need to discontinue any medications that may cause light hypersensitivity for a week before each treatment, such as antibiotics (minocycline, tetracycline, doxycycline) or Vitamin A compounds (Retin-A/Renova).
  • You may be asked to avoid taking aspirin, ibuprofen, or Aleve one week prior to treatment unless medically indicated as these medications can promote bruising.
  • You will be required to discontinue oral isotretinoin (accutane) for 6 months prior to treatment.
  • Laser Hair Removal should be avoided if you are pregnant, have a history of seizures, healing problems or keloid formation, severe dermatitis or eczema (within the treatment area), active infections or open wounds in treated area, have a significant systemic illness, have a history of skin cancer or suspicious lesions, are hypersensitive to sunlight, take anticoagulants or medication that alters wound healing, have received gold therapy, or are experiencing cold sores / herpes outbreaks.
  • Laser hair removal is safe for clients on oral contraceptives (birth control pill) or who are using hormone eluting IUD’s. Related to this – if a client is on any medication or treatment plan that decreases hair growth, as it would in patients who are being treated for polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), then there will be a normal amount of hair removal, just like a client without PCOS.  If the client goes off the medication and their hair growth goes up (more hair and coarser) then laser hair removal will be more effective.  For most patients, oral contraceptive use will not change the hair growth noticeably.

What can I expect at my first treatment?

At your laser hair removal appointment, your laser technician will bring you into the treatment room, where you will be treated with either the Alexandrite or ND:Yag Laser, depending on your skin type. All personnel in the treatment room, including both technicians and clients, will wear protective eyewear to prevent the possibility of eye damage from the intense laser beam. Your technician will use the laser handpiece to emit laser pulses directed at the area being treated, and the pigmentation in the hair will absorb this energy, causing it to fall out in the next few weeks. Treatment times can vary from 15 minutes for small treatment areas like the underarms, upper lip or chin, and can last up to two hours for larger areas such as full legs / back.

Does it Hurt?

This is a completely safe treatment causing only minimal discomfort. Everyone has a different pain threshold, but generally, laser hair removal is not much more painful than waxing. Patients often say it is slightly “spicy” or feels similar to the snap of a rubber band. Slight redness or localized swelling can occasionally occur, but this usually subsides within the first 24 hours of treatment. The lasers at AZURE use a cooling mechanism to immediately cool the skin with each laser pulse to minimize discomfort and to help with skin recovery, and additional cooling technology for more sensitive skin is available with our stand-alone Zimmer Cooling System.  Most clients do not require an anaesthetic cream; however, topical freezing cream (such as Emla) can be purchased at a pharmacy and applied before the appointment to make treatment more comfortable. Be aware that using anaesthetic cream is only safe on small areas (like upper lip, bikini or underarms) and in small quantities.  Using topical anaesthetic cream on large areas like the back is not recommended as it can have serious side effects in higher doses.

What can I expect immediately after treatment and in the weeks following?

Following the procedure, the treated area may be red for a few hours or a few days. The area should be treated delicately following treatment and there are no restrictions on bathing except to treat the skin gently, as if you had a sunburn, for the first 24 hours. We recommend that you avoid hot tubs or swimming pool use for 48 hours.  Makeup may be used immediately after treatment unless there is epidermal blistering. It is recommended to use NEW or mineral based makeup to reduce the possibility of infection.  Avoid sun exposure to reduce the chance of hyperpigmentation or darker pigmentation and always be sure to use sunscreen (SPF 30 or greater) at all times throughout the course of treatment. All other hair removal treatment products or similar treatments (waxing, electrolysis or tweezing) should be avoided after treatment, as this can disturb the growth cycle of hair follicles and may even stimulate new growth.

Within about one to three weeks, you should experience shedding of all treated hair. At first, hair will look like it’s growing back in, but it is just coming through the skin to shed.  Exfoliating and/or scrubbing gently in the shower with a loofa can help speed up the process. After shedding finishes, you might experience little black dots still “stuck” in the skin. These are commonly referred to as “pepperspots” and will shed eventually, but may take a bit longer.

After shedding occurs, you should experience a hair-free period for a few weeks, until the next cycle of hair, that was dormant before, starts to grow in. New hair growth will not occur for at least three weeks after treatment.  You will have the option to pre-book your next treatment after your appointment or simply call us to book at the first sign of hair regrowth. This can mean within 4-6 weeks for the upper body treated and possibly as long as 2-3 months, for the lower body treated. Hair regrowth occurs at different rates on different areas of the body.

What is the Hair Growth Cycle?

Under normal circumstances hair growth in each hair follicle occurs in a cycle. There are three main phases of the hair growth cycle: anagen, catagen and telogen. Anagen (active) is the growing phase or when the hair fiber is produced. During anagen, the hair contains an abundance of melanin, the pigment which gives your hair its color. This is the phase during which laser hair removal treatment is most effective. Catagen (club hair) is the period of controlled regression of the hair follicle. This phase is when the lower part of the hair stops growing, but does not shed, and the follicle is reabsorbed. It will be difficult for permanence to be achieved when the hair is in the catagen growth cycle. Telogen is the last of the hair growth cycle. In this resting phase, the old hair falls out in preparation for the development of a new anagen hair. Permanence cannot be achieved when the hair is in the telogen growth cycle. Remember, anagen is followed by catagen, a period of controlled regression of the hair follicle. Ultimately the hair follicle enters telogen, when the follicle is in a so-called resting state. Normally this cycle of hair production will continue for the duration of the individual’s life. However, other factors can influence, promote and inhibit hair production. How well the laser can eliminate the hairs, depends on the skin type/colour, hair type/colour and what part of the growth cycle the hair is in.

How many treatments are required?

Typically, clients require up to 6 treatments to achieve maximum hair reduction; however, results will vary depending on individual factors such as skin tone, hair colour / coarseness and stage of hair growth cycle. Lack of patient compliance (such as not following pre / post procedure instructions or recommended treatment intervals) can also result in more treatments required to get desired results.  Be advised that hormonal changes can cause more hair growth.  Everybody is different and we cannot predict with certainty how many treatments will be required for you as an individual; however, you can rest assured knowing that the best laser technology for your skin and hair type will be used.

What Are the Possible Risks and Side Effects of Laser Hair Removal?

The possibility exists that some side effects or complications can occur given various variables, including: normal itching during treatment, redness for up to 3 days, swelling (around mouth of follicle) for up to 3 days, pain, tingling, or feeling of numbness (from laser cooling), rare crusting/scab formation (on ingrown hairs), bruising purpura (purple colouring of the skin) on tanned areas, infection, temporary pigment change (hypo-pigmentation or hyper-pigmentation) or blistering. Side effects occur infrequently and, as a rule, generally are temporary. If any of the above last for more than 3 days, make sure to contact your provider.

How to Choose a Clinic for Laser Hair Removal

When it comes to laser hair removal, staff training, experience and expertise matters. There is more reassurance when attending a medical directed spa where the physician has qualified estheticians performing laser hair removal. Our staff have all taken Laser Safety Training through the Laser Institute of America and have manufacturer specific equipment training for each laser they operate.  Having your services completed at a recognized medical spa also insures that if you have any side effects, a physician is available to help you.

Laser type also matters; in the mid-1990s, when the first laser was FDA approved for hair removal, it was only effective with lighter skin tones. Technology has dramatically improved since then; however, lasers can’t tell the difference between the melanin in the hair and the melanin in the skin, which is where staff expertise / laser selection comes in.

It is important to look for a laser centre with multiple lasers since no single laser can safely and effectively remove hair on people with all skin types. The Alexandrite laser has been scientifically evaluated as the most effective hair removal laser for light to medium toned skin and the long pulsed Nd:Yag laser has been evaluated as most effective for dark or tanned skin.  At Azure Advanced Aesthetics, we utilize both the Alexandrite laser and Nd:Yag laser for hair removal, allowing us to use the most effective laser type available for the specific needs of each client, considering skin and hair types.  Our lasers are medical grade equipment, with high energy outputs, variable pulse widths and built in skin cooling technology for increased results, comfort and safety.

AZURE has an IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) machine, typically used for skin rejuvenation treatments.  IPL is NOT an effective tool for laser hair removal, but may provide some limited hair reduction as a side effect to skin rejuvenation treatments.  Be sure to inquire with your provider whether or not they are using lasers specifically designed for hair reduction (the gold standard) or lower cost IPL machines (broadband light – not laser).

Note that Azure Advanced Aesthetics is a physician owned and directed facility; therefore, all of our laser equipment is Health Canada approved, CSA approved, and registered with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia to ensure the utmost in patient safety.