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Does Laser Hair Removal Work?

Waxing, shaving, depilatories, electrolysis, creams, tweezing, threading and sugaring – it seems we’ll try just about anything to remove unwanted body hair!

With so many products on the market, finding a method that suits your personal needs within your budget can be tricky. Hair removal is a multi-billion dollar business, with countless Britons choosing to remove body hair through a variety of often-expensive methods each year. In 2011, the hair removal market was valued at $2.1 billion in the United States, and according to The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, over 1 million laser hair procedures were performed in 2012.

But laser hair removal is by no means an American phenomenon. The British hair removal market is believed to be on par with that of the States, and laser hair removal in particular is on the rise. As an increasing number of people are exploring options for a more permanent, cost-effective solution to hair removal, we take a look at the facts and figures associated with this increasingly-popular non-surgical cosmetic procedure to help you decide if it might be right for you.

What is laser hair removal?

Laser hair removal is the process through which hair is removed using focused light that penetrates the skin, which then targets the hair follicle and the hair underneath. The heat created during this process kills the root of the hair, instantly removing it. The result is smooth, soft skin without the need for constant waxing or shaving. Laser hair removal is conducted over a series of sessions. Hair follicles can be in the ‘resting phase’ as opposed to growth phase, meaning the laser will not be as effective targeting those follicles. As a result, numerous laser treatments are needed to target every follicle and maximize results.

Statistics released by The Hair Removal Journal in September 2012 revealed that 82% of patients who underwent the procedure were women. However, men are also turning to laser hair removal to treat areas of high visibility such as the back and chest.

Other areas that are commonly treated with laser hair removal include:

•    Upper lip & other facial hair
•    Legs
•    Arms & underarms
•    Bikini lines & area
•    Back
•    Shoulders
•    Chest & abdomen

A laser treatment practitioner will generally use one of four laser light systems to conduct the treatments. The Ruby, Diode, Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) system and Alexandrite laser have all been FDA-approved, and are routinely used to conduct laser hair removal. The time a session will take can vary from ten to forty minutes depending on the area and type of hair being treated. Studies indicate that lasers work best on dark hair, although recent developments have made treating blonde, white and grey hair with little pigmentation possible as well. The results of laser treatment are largely positive; after a full course of treatment, 80-95% of patients saw a reduction in hair growth.

Do I need laser hair removal?

Many people turn to laser hair removal to simplify their grooming routine. It’s estimated a person can shave 11,540 times in their lifetime – a stat that’s prompting more people to want to explore other options to escape the hassle and the long-term expense (good razors aren’t cheap, after all!). But aside from making life easier, laser hair removal can treat problematic medical hair growth conditions, as well as ingrown hairs. Hair can grow in abnormal places and in unusual amounts for a number of reasons, be it down to genetics or medication, hormones, nutrition or other health issues. Hypertrichosis, the excessive growth of body hair and Hirsuitism, the growth of male-pattern body hair on women, can both be treated effectively with laser hair removal.

Laser Hair Removal FAQs

1. Is laser hair removal permanent?

No method of hair removal can stop hair re-growth permanently, but laser hair removal is the most effective in providing permanent reduction in hair growth. It is a clinically-proven option that provides fast and long-lasting results over the course of treatment. Laser hair removal generally takes place over six to eight sessions, resulting in an estimated 20% decrease in hair growth each time. That said, the duration of the course of treatment varies with every patient.

Hair growth cycles vary with each individual, dependent on factors such as pregnancy and hormones as well as hereditary and medical conditions. For this reason, some patients opt to go back for the occasional refresher or “top-up” treatment, while others shave or wax as and when is needed. While laser hair may not provide permanent hair removal, it is FDA-certified to provide permanent hair reduction.

2. Does laser hair removal hurt?

While everyone’s pain tolerance is different, the short answer is no, laser hair removal is not a painful procedure. In fact, most patients don’t feel anything when undergoing laser hair removal.

To make patients feel comfortable, some practitioners will use a ‘Zimmer’ or cooling machine, while others will apply a cooling gel to soothe the skin. If the patient feels a little more discomfort, some may provide an ice pack to reduce itching or swelling, although very few patients report feeling pain during the actual procedure (the sensation has sometimes been likened to the snap of a rubber band against your skin). Some people have reported a light tingling feeling, but generally speaking, laser hair removal is a painless and medically-proven option for long-term hair removal.

3. Are there any side effects or risks?

There can be some side effects immediately following laser treatment.

Short-term side effects include:

•    Itching
•    Swelling
•    Redness

These effects can easily be calmed with a cooling lotion such as Aloe Vera or an ice pack. Sensitive areas of the body such as the bikini and facial areas may appear red after a treatment, but this will dissipate after a few hours.

There have been reports of blistering occurring after treatment, although these are very rare and blistering is not considered a normal side effect of laser hair removal. Permanent scars or changes in skin pigmentation are also possible rare side effects.

To minimise laser hair removal side effects, patients should avoid sun exposure while undergoing treatment, keeping skin covered with a sunblock of SPF15 or higher, and limiting direct exposure to sunlight. Patients should also refrain from plucking, bleaching or other forms of hair removal for two weeks leading up to a session, as this will reduce the effectiveness of the laser treatment (you should aim to arrive at your treatment with at least a ‘stubble’).

Is laser hair removal safe?

Laser hair removal has been commercially available for over 10 years, and there have been no long term harmful side effects reported. It is a non-invasive procedure that has yielded proven results on a huge variety of patients.

Laser treatments are safest when carried out in a professional medical setting and conducted by a trained dermatological professional. While there are at-home laser hair removal kits available on the market, patients should turn to a clinic and entrust a professional trained in operating a laser for the best results, reducing laser hair removal risks. 

How much does it cost?

The cost of each patient’s laser hair removal treatment will vary depending on a variety of factors:

•    The type of hair/condition being treated
•    The area being treated
•    The number of treatments
•    The clinic/practitioner performing the removal
•    The geographic location of the clinic (locations in central cities tend to be a bit more expensive)

According to The Harley Medical Group, the price per treatment can start at as low as £55, and range upwards of £400. Many clinics offer discounts for repeat bookings as well as payment plans to make laser hair removal an affordable option for most patients.

Whether you want to kiss goodbye your waxing kit or see the end of problematic hair growth, laser treatments are a viable option for most cases. Talk to your health care provider to discuss whether laser hair removal is right for you.


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