Everything you need to know about laser hair removal
While many women and men opt to let their body hair grow au natural, there's no denying the increasing popularity in removing some, if not all of it.
Shaving, waxing and epilating were all commonly used methods of hair removal in the past - but with technological advancements came laser hair removal, and a new way to get rid of unwanted hair, for good.
We sat down with Nicky Shore, Founder and Owner of OFF Wax & Laser who are changing the face of permanent hair removal in New Zealand, to find out out everything you need to know about getting zapped.
How does laser hair removal work?
A laser is effectively a machine that makes billions of atoms pump out trillions of photons (light particles) all at once so they line up to form a really concentrated light beam.
Laser removes the hair by a process called selective photothermolysis. The light energy from the laser is transferred into thermal energy in the hair follicle. The laser targets melanin, the pigmented region in the hair follicle. Heat from the laser is absorbed by the melanin in the hair resulting in the follicle being destroyed.
Is laser the same as IPL?
NO! A lot of people may think they are having laser but in fact are having IPL, VPL or something other than true laser.
There is a massive difference between IPL and Laser. Lasers are the most selective and effective at absorbing into melanin meaning fewer treatments are required.
They penetrate deeper to specifically target hair structures; whereas IPLs typically do not, resulting sometimes in collateral damage to the surrounding tissue.
If you've previously had IPL but your hair has grown back, there's a couple reasons why.
Hair type and colour, course length, number of sessions, timing between sessions, energy levels used can all play a part in how effective IPL will be, but basically it's just less effective at hair removal specifically than laser in many instances.
Quite simply, only a high power laser is capable of penetrating deep to the root of the hair in short powerful pulses without damaging the surrounding tissue.
This combined with ability of the correct laser frequency to specifically target and destroy the hair follicle permanently eliminates the need for unnecessary lengthy repeat courses.
What areas of the body can be treated?
Nearly every area can be treated. We choose to not do around the eyes/brows for safety reasons only.
There are contraindications that we screen for that may make you an unsuitable candidate for laser including preganancy, certain medications, conditions and medical concerns
What are some common misconceptions about laser hair removal?
The most common misconception is that it is the same as IPL! They are incredibly different!
The second is that it is incredibly painful – I think a lot of people associate the pain with that of IPL or other energy based treatments from a long time ago. There have been huge advancements in cooling devices and comfort.
Thirdly, that all hair can be treated – laser hair removal can only work on hair with melanin present. Grey, white and some blondes and red heads are not suitable candidates unfortunately, however different parts of the body have different levels of pigment, so a patch test is a great way to understand feasibility.
How painful is it?
A lot of people describe it as a sensation rather than a pain. We have a cooling device to cool the skin so you don't have to feel the heat from the laser as much.
Candela's Dynamic Cooling Device (DCD) sprays cryogen gas into the skin before the laser to make it as comfortable as possible.
We can confidently say that it is far less painful than waxing. There may be a slight discomfort but it is tolerable.
Is laser dangerous?
Anything in the wrong hands can be dangerous.
The key with any treatment is to make sure it is operated in the hands of a trained technician, qualified and experienced.
Also the laser machine itself should be the genuine thing – anyone can purchase a second hand, reconditioned machine and operate it – so scary!.
Key questions to ask include training and experience in hair removal and laser, qualifications, safety protocols and also what the machine is, where it was purchased from and servicing and maintenance.
What are the side effects?
If your laser treatment is performed by a trained and experienced technician, and you follow the aftercare instructions diligently then any side effects should be negligible. For most it is similar to have a wax where the area may be sensitive for a short period after.
Like all medical treatments sometimes unexpected adverse reactions are possible, and it is for this reason we perform a patch test before commencing treatment to eliminate this possibility as much as possible.
How many sessions do you need to have?
The number of sessions you need is dependent on your genetic makeup, hormone levels, medical background and changes in the areas being treated.
Clients in general experience excellent end results in 6 – 8 sessions for the body and 6 – 10 sessions for the face. Usually facial areas require more sessions as they are on shorter regrowth cycles and hormones and medications can increase the speed and density of growth.
We price a course as a minimum of six sessions for this reason… it is not that six is the magic number.
Will every single hair be removed?
No, for most people the feeling and look of hairlessness is around 85 – 95% reduction. Those hairs that are left are often the finer, lighter vellus one, all which cannot be treated by laser due to lack of melanin. Some people experience well over 95% hair reduction. As mentioned previously as well, our age, hormones and other factors e.g. medications can all trigger sporadic hair growth which is why most people require a top up periodically. For some people they may require more than 6 – 8 sessions to actively target hair in the growth phase (as cycles do vary.
Treatment by ANY energy based device (Laser, IPL, VPL etc) is technically classed as permanent hair 'reduction', due to the targeting of follicles only in certain stages of the growth cycle.
However the results we are have been delivering with our equipment and training has been incredible and that's why the vast majority of our customers can expect to walk away hair free for good after our standard course of just 6 sessions.
The need for a top up can arise to account for new hair growth that can arise e.g. hormonal changes such as after a baby.
Will the hair ever grow back?
Any follicles that have actively destroyed by the laser cannot generate another hair. Again dependant on age, hormones, medications you may have new follicle generate hair. This is usually managed through annual top ups.
What do I do with my hair in between sessions?
Shave, shave, shave!
You have to avoid waxing, threading, plucking, epilating or bleaching the hair 4 weeks prior to treatment and for the duration of your laser course.
The melanin containing hair must be present in the follicle as it is the "target" for the laser.
Prior to coming in for a session, you need to have hair that is actively attached to the follicle (as it acts as the highway for the laser energy) so no waxing, or plucking the hair from the root at all - only shaving.
You also need to make sure you don't have any natural or active tan, and ensure you don't expose yourself to the sun before or after.
How long does a session take?
It depends on the area – facial sessions e.g. a lip can be as little as 10 – 15 minutes. We can complete a full back for males in under 45 min.
Why can’t you just zap it all off in one go?
Your hair grows in three stages. It is only through the active "Anagen" phase when it is attached to the hair follicle that the laser can permanently disable future growth. Over a course of treatments at the correct weekly intervals we can target the hair in that phase of growth.
The cycle for every person and for different areas is very individual, for example facial hair can be 3 – 4 weekly whilst body 6 – 8.
To further complicate things the cycle for hair is not synchronised (at any time maybe 20% of the hair could be in anagen phase, maybe less) which is why multiple treatments are needed.
How can laser help with ingrown hairs, and ingrown hair scars?
Basically, by removing the ability of the follicle to generate a hair this problem can be eliminated completely – no hair, no ingrown! Over time scars do heal and improve.
Do you laser men, too?
ABSOLUTELY!… in fact men make up a very large proportion of our clientele for laser hair removal.
Why do you think it’s worth the cost, compared to other hair removal techniques?
Whilst laser is the more expensive option upfront, over a lifetime versus waxing and shaving it saves on both time and money dramatically.
The real cost is the also the cost in total it takes you to get from the start to the point of 85 – 90% hair reduction, not the cost per session.
With inferior technology, lack of operator experience, skill and training and the fundamental difference between the various types of permanent hair reduction, people could experience requiring many more sessions than that of a well implemented laser plan and spending a lot more in total.
How will laser change your life?
In a word, freedom. Freedom in time, hassle, feeling that hair free feeling, and ultimately money.
We have had many, many clients tell us it has changed their life from embarrassing social problems and insecurities being resolved to just taking out another thing in their lives to worry about.