Laser hair removal is a procedure that really works. Most patients are successful at reducing their unwanted hair growth with laser hair removal and most tolerate the procedure well with minimal discomfort and no topical anesthetic. It’s important to remember, however, that the result of laser hair removal results is permanent hair reduction, not every last hair gone.
To understand why you can’t achieve total hairlessness in the area that is treated, let’s discuss the physiology of hair growth and how the laser “attacks” the hair follicle. Hair grows from a hair follicle which includes a hair shaft containing support cells called basal cells which generate the hair. The part of the hair that shows above the skin surface is not living. The hair in the shaft is the only living part of the hair. Only some of your hair follicles are in the actively growing cycle at any given time. Laser can only “attack” the hair when it is actively growing. Everyone has 6 to 8 hair cycles; a new cycle starts to actively grow every 4 to 6 weeks. Therefore, we use the laser to attack your actively growing hair every 4 to 6 weeks for 6 to 8 treatments. Additional treatments or later touch up treatments may be required to achieve the desired reduction and maintain it.
Lasers “see” pigment. The laser cannot see white, red, blond or grey hair. That’s why we can’t treat people with those hair colors. The laser will see dark colored hairs on the surface of the skin and the laser light will descend in the hair shaft using the pigment of the hair to trek its way down, “killing” some of the basal cells in that follicle. With less basal cells, it will be harder for that follicle to make a thick hair. If all of the basal cells die, the hair will not grow from that follicle; if only some the basal cells remain, the hair will be thinner. There is no way of knowing how many basal cells will remain in an individual follicle after 6 or 8 treatments with the laser. Everyone is different. Generally, everyone will experience some reduction with the laser treatments done at the appropriate interval.
In order for the laser to work, the dark hair at the surface needs to be just a stubble. If you have recently plucked, used depilatory creams, or waxed in the past 2 weeks, the hair is ripped off below the surface and having a laser treatment before the hair resurfaces above the skin will not give you an optimal treatment. Therefore, we ask you to shave only during your treatments, with the last shaving of the hair approximately 8 hours prior to treatment. Longer hair will result in burning of the hair as the laser strikes it, and your treatment will be more uncomfortable. Additionally, dying the hair a darker color at the skin surface if it is blonde, red, white or grey, does not make the laser work. The laser uses the dark hair pigment to shimmy down the hair shaft, and if the hair is not dark in color all of the way down the hair shaft, the laser light will stop short of the dyed hair at the surface and not kill the basal cells.
I think understanding the physiology behind hair growth enables you to decide whether or not laser hair reduction will work for you. Call me if you want to get started.