Laser hair removal is all over the place right now. There are ads for it pretty much everywhere you look. It seems like an amazing procedure—painfree and permanent hair removal, who wouldn’t want to do it? However, it is not right for everybody. This procedure works best on those with light skin and dark hair. There are a variety of lasers on the market today and they are beginning to adapt to work on a wide range of skin and hair color combinations. These newer lasers are more effective at removing dark hair from patients with dark skin, so those of you with light hair will need to wait a bit longer (and keep your fingers crossed that they continue to make advancements in this field).
To start off with, laser hair removal works by targeting the melanin in your hair. Melanin in the hair follicle comes from melanocytes that are located in the lower layers of your skin. They produce melanin (a pigment) which then enters the growing hair. This is the same compound that gives people different skin colors. Minor genetic differences determine the location of the cells which is what makes hair (or skin) darker—if the melanocytes are located closer to the skin surface there is less time for the melanin to degrade and therefore the hair and skin will appear darker. The laser will target the hair follicle and destroy it which means it will no longer produce hair.
There are some choices to be made, and you will want to speak with several laser centers to find the best one for your hair/skin combo. An Alexandrite laser is often the laser of choice for those with pale skin—make sure that this is not the laser used if you have dark skin, it is NOT safe for dark-skinned patients! Patients with dark skin need a Nd:YAG laser (a neodymium-doped yttrium aluminium garnet laser) which is also effective on lighter tones. As a side note, the Nd:YAG laser is not only used for hair removal, but it can be effective in treating vascular problems like spider veins. The other option is a pulsed diode array laser which is best for pale or medium tones.
It may be scary to think that a laser will be used, but this procedure is painless. The laser will get warm, but they are always combined with a cooling system to prevent pain. This can be contact cooling (which is inside of the laser unit and will be touching your skin so it can keep the unit cool), air cooling (fored cold air that works in a similar manner), or a cryogen spray that is placed directly onto your skin.
Keep in mind that this is NOT a one-time thing. You will need multiple sessions; most people require 6-8 sessions for maximal results. With this being said, you will see immediate results after the first session. Your hair grows in cycles, not all of the follicles are active at the same time, so one treatment will kill all of the actively growing follicles but it will not get the ones that are inactive. This is why multiple treatments are necessary.
As with any procedure, it is important to find a skilled doctor to perform this. You may want to save money by finding the cheapest place possible, but make sure that they know what they are doing. The side effects if something goes wrong can be pretty rough and scarring is common among procedures that were done by inexperienced people.
The above image is to give you an idea of what a bad reaction can look like. Always make sure that the laser being used is the right type and at the right setting for your skin tone. Also, it is smart to have them do a test spot before treating your whole body.