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  Home > Risks of laser hair removal

What is laser hair removal and is it right for me?

Lasers were first introduced for dermatology uses in the late 1960’s. Laser hair removal is actually one of several “light-based” methods for removing unwanted body hair. Also known as phototricholysis, photothermolysis or photoepilation.

How lasers work. Lasers are used to destroy the hair follicles while leaving the pores and skin in tact by targeting the melanin that naturally occurs in the hair.

The 1960's version of laser hair removal was not that effective. Unfortunately, because early lasers produced a steady wave, it was impossible to pinpoint hair follicles with the precision necessary to remove unwanted hair without damaging the surrounding skin.

Laser pin point control much better by the 1970's. By the late 1970’s, the Q-switch had been invented, providing technicians the ability to produce laser energy in more controlled bursts.

During this time,laser technology was widely used for other dermatology concerns such as:

  • Tattoo removal
  • and the minimization of scars.

It was by accident that dermatologists noticed that patients seemed to lose hair in and around the treated areas. This led to further studies and scientists began testing laser hair removal processes on human subjects in the 1990’s.

1995 marked the first FDA-approved hair removal laser in the US – the SoftLight Nd:YAG owned by Thermolase. These lasers were designed to target the darker matter while leaving the lighter matter untouched. To help distinguish between the two, dermatologists identified three possible chromophores, or substances that would attract the laser:

  • Carbon, through the form of a carbon-based lotion rubbed directly onto the skin.
  • Hemoglobin, the substance that gives our blood its red color.
  • Melanin, which gives our skin and hair its color.

Using a carbon-based lotion as a chromophore, the laser heated the carbon with the idea that it would affect the follicles in the process.

Unfortunately, the carbon didn’t always reach the follicles and the blast of laser energy sometimes damaged the surrounding skin. A class action lawsuit was filed in 1998 based on fraudulent claims and was settled out of court. More lawsuits followed and in 1999, Thermolase began closing their laser spas.

Because laser technology is designed to target the melanin in the hair, laser hair removal normally works best on light-skinned patients with dark hair. Melanin is what gives our hair and skin its color, so the darker it is, the more melanin you have. To accommodate all skin types, additional laser technology had to be developed.

Today, there are four basic kinds of lasers that are used for hair removal:

  • Ruby
  • Alexandrite
  • Diode
  • ND and LP ND Yag

Where Ruby and Alexandrite lasers work best on light-skinned patients that tend to burn instead of tan, the Diode laser can sometimes work on darker skinned patients and the Nd:Yag works equally well on all skin types.

Some technologies are more painful than others and some have more long-term data than their counterparts.If you’re considering laser hair removal, make sure you know what kind of technology will be used and that its appropriate for your skin type.

Are their any risks or concerns I need to be aware of? And what makes a 'good' candidate for laser hair removal?

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