How Laser Hair Removal Works and the Negative Effects from Sun Exposure

in Avon, Connecticut

My name is Patty Ferguson, RN, BSN, and I administer the laser hair removal treatments for Dr. Paul Stanislaw at Stanislaw Facial Plastic Surgery Center. In this practice, it is important for us to provide our patients with knowledge and education to enable them to make informed decisions and ensure safe and effective outcomes while working collaboratively.

In this blog, I will address some general points of laser hair removal, how it works, and the key issue of avoiding the sun. This is especially important as we approach the summer months.

Laser hair removal has been approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) for…

permanent hair reduction, not permanent removal. Electrolysis is the only treatment that is considered to be permanent by the FDA. What that means is that each person can expect a different result from laser hair removal.  Realistic expectations are a 70-90% reduction of hair. A person may need to touch up treatments, especially for females with hormone fluctuations. With that being said, many people achieve enough of a reduction that it is almost like being permanent, and can stop shaving altogether.

Laser hair removal is safe, effective, and offers more long-lasting hair reduction results than other treatments, such as shaving, waxing, tweezing, and using depilatory creams. The reason for this is because it attacks the hair deep in the follicle, as opposed to these other treatments that cut the hair mid-shaft. Electrolysis deals with only one hair at a time by destroying the root of each hair at the follicle with an electric current. The treatment takes longer for each session as well as the overall number of sessions that will be needed. Even though it is considered to be permanent, it is not always guaranteed to be 100 percent for everyone. Touch up treatments may still be needed.

Lasers have come a long way and continue to evolve

More advanced technology has made it possible for laser hair removal to be done on many different skin types. In the past, previous technology did not work well for people with medium to darker skin tones. The skin type and color of someone are classified by a numerical scale called the Fitzpatrick Scale. This scale is used by plastic surgeons, dermatologists, and estheticians.  Within this scale, each person falls into 1 of 6 types with 1 being the lightest skin color and 6 being the darkest. This Fitzpatrick Scale will be used in determining the settings for your laser treatment for optimal results.  Unfortunately, not all people are candidates for laser hair removal even with all the technological advancements. Laser hair removal will not work for blonde, white, gray, and some red hair. It will also not work well on vellus hair, which is the very soft and fine hair found on various body parts, especially the face.

While working on all skin types, lasers still work best on a person with lighter skin and dark hair. The reason is that the contrast between the color of the skin and the color of the pigment in the hair follicle is what allows the laser to pick up on and target the darker contrast.

Having both darker skin and dark hair makes the laser compete for the target of the hair follicle. If your skin is on the darker side, you will want to be sure that the laser that is being used is designed for darker skin Fitzpatrick’s.

The laser works by using light energy and making it extremely important to avoid the sun during laser hair removal treatments. The light energy is absorbed by the pigment (melanin) in the hair. The light energy is converted to heat, which damages the hair follicles. The damage inhibits or delays future hair growth. The laser is designed to deliver that energy to the hair, and not the surrounding skin. Skin exposed to the sun, tanning beds, and self-tanning products produce more melanin, which attracts energy from the laser and can cause it to spread out beyond the follicle. This in turn can cause hyperpigmentation (darker skin), burns, or scaring.

This is primarily why it becomes more challenging to do laser treatments during the summer months. Even if your skin doesn’t look tanned, it is still being exposed to UV Rays, making the skin more sensitive to the light energy process of the laser. It will be important to try to avoid the sun while having laser hair removal by covering your skin as much as possible and using a sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB sun rays. Remember this is a beauty investment, and you want to get the most you can from it.

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Patricia Ferguson, RN, BSN

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