Laser hair removal targets melanin in hair follicles, using single, specific wavelengths that are, in many cases, tuned to match the skin pigmentation of each patient. The melanin in the hair follicles absorb the energy from the laser source and heat up. That heating action destroys the follicle’s ability to grow hair, leading to complete hair removal once all follicles in each area are treated. Hair follicles grow in a cycle, though not in sync with each other, so several treatments are necessary to catch follicles at their vulnerable place in the growth cycle. Because many hair removal lasers can be tuned, treating individual rogue hairs – such as those that grow darker and thicker with time – is possible without affecting surrounding follicles that continue to grow normally.
The sensation of a laser hair removal treatment is most often described as similar to a rubber band “snap” against the skin. Though it’s not inherently pleasant, neither is it painful or enduring. Laser pulses last only a fraction of second, covering an area up to about 1 inch in diameter, depending on the device in use. Treating small areas, such as the upper lip for example, may take no more than 10 or 15 minutes. Large areas, such as the legs or back may require treatments of up to an hour. Frequently, laser devices have cooling heads that help minimize the laser’s impact on surface skin, and cooling gels may also be used. After treatment, the affected area may experience symptoms similar to mild sunburn, but these may pass within hours, or at worst may linger for a day or two.
Yes. Side effects are most often experienced by patients with darker skin color that’s closer to the color of the hair follicle melanin. This means that effective treatment of the follicle requires laser energy that’s also absorbed by the surrounding skin. In rare cases, blistering may result, which may be treated with cool compresses and moisturizers. Avoiding sun exposure for 6 weeks before the procedure improves the effectiveness of hair removal treatment. Similarly, avoiding sun for 6 weeks after the procedure allows the skin to recover following treatment.
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