As the technology improves, laser hair removal (epilation) is gaining in popularity, as it offers a safe and effective way of getting rid of unwanted hair on the face, underarms, legs, back…essentially anywhere you are not comfortable with.

Lasers have been used for quite some time for treating various conditions, such as eczema, and for getting rid of wrinkles, acne scars and blemishes, in a process known as resurfacing or rejuvenation. All of these processes, although generating different results, work in the same fashion. A focused beam of light is directed on the problem area, penetrating the skin and damaging the underlying cause of the issue.

In this case, the energy from the light damages the cells at the base of the hair follicle enough to impede new growth. Although not guaranteed to be permanent, it can significantly reduce the amount of hair that grows in that particular area.

How effective is laser hair removal?

There are many factors involved in how successful treatments will be for a particular patient. For starters, every individual responds differently. You can have two twin sisters going to the same doctor using the same laser, both having their upper lips treated, and one might never have growth in that area again while the other might need to come back multiple times to achieve the same effect.

Generally speaking, an individual with lighter skin and darker hair is the ideal candidate for laser epilation. Without getting into the science behind it, these individuals just respond better to treatment. Light or blonde hair often doesn’t get affected, and darker skin often experiences unwanted side effects due to the way it absorbs the energy from the lasers.

However, manufacturers of some of the newer lasers claim that they can be used on all skin and hair types, so chances are by the time you read this there is an effective option for you. Also consider IPL, or Intense Pulsed Light, LHE, or Light Heat Energy, home use lasers, electrolysis and waxing. These all have their merits and drawbacks, so carefully consider each one.

Is it permanent and are there dangers?

As of this writing the FDA has not allowed the claim of permanent removal, but they do allow the wording permanent reduction. So, you can safely assume that at the very least you will notice less hair in those problem areas upon completion of your treatment.

Keep in mind that typically multiple sessions are necessary. This is because of the growth cycle of your hair. The most success is achieved when the hair is first starting to grow, and that time will vary from follicle to follicle. You can expect at least two visits, and possible up to ten. It will depend on the area being treated, and the size of that area.

As far as side effects or complications from laser hair removal, you may experience some redness, swelling, or soreness. This is all usually temporary and you may be given something after the procedure to ease the pain. In rare cases you may experience some discoloration of the skin or bumps.

If you have had any prior problems with laser treatments, are taking tretinoin or any vitamin A derivative, are tanned or burned, or have any other skin issues, you might not be a good candidate for laser hair removal. Talk to your doctor about any health issues and medications you are taking.

Also, to minimize potential side effects choose an experienced practitioner. The procedure can be performed by beauticians and other non-medical individuals as well as dermatologists and plastic surgeons. So whether you decide to go with a doctor or non-doctor, get recommendations and check references.

How does it compare to waxing and electrolysis?

Generally speaking, laser epilation is much more effective than waxing, as it provides a more permanent solution. Although waxing will yield quicker results and is cheaper per session, since the follicle is not being destroyed (rather, the hairs are just uprooted) the hair will definitely grow back and ongoing sessions will be needed.

Electrolysis, on the other hand, can offer a permanent solution. The drawbacks are that only one hair can be treated at a time, as opposed to the larger area covered by the laser. So it takes a lot more time to achieve similar results, and it can cause more damage. However, as mentioned above, light hair doesn’t respond to laser treatment. So electrolysis is your only option for long-lasting results. Also, it works great for smaller areas, such as eyebrow sculpting.