Laser Hair Removal Index


August 21, 2001

Laser hair removal is done by beaming a specified wavelength of light from a handpiece into the skin, where it targets dark material (usually the pigment in hair). This is intended to cause thermal and/or mechanical damage to a hair follicle while sparing surrounding tissues. Some consumers experience permanent hair reduction, but there are limited data on how often that occurs, how long hair reduction usually lasts, and how much reduction is typical.

Advantages

  • Some consumers have experienced long-lasting hair removal or permanent hair reduction.
  • Considered safe if performed properly.
  • Useful for large areas such as backs or legs.
  • Regrowth can come back lighter in color or finer in texture.
  • Light-skinned consumers with dark hair have the best results.

Disadvantages

  • Long-term data on safety and effectiveness have not been accurately established.
  • Response rates have not been established.
  • Regrowth rates have not been accurately established and cannot be predicted due to numerous variables.
  • Generally not as effective on unpigmented (gray) hairs and red or blonde hair.
  • Must be used very cautiously (if at all) on darker skin tones or on consumers who tan themselves.
  • Improper treatment can cause burns, lesions, skin discoloration lasting several months, or patchy/patterned regrowth.
  • Recent data suggest other skin structures are often affected by laser irradiation, and long term effects of this constitute an unknown risk.
  • Requires eye protection.
  • Can be expensive.
  • Some find treatment painful.
  • Regulation varies by state, so inadequate controls exist to ensure competent practitioners.
  • Some consumers, even ideal candidates, do not respond to treatment.

Quack Claims

  • Painless” or “virtually painless.” While many clients tolerate laser without requiring pain relief, it’s overpromise to state that treatment will be painless for all consumers.
  • Permanent hair removal” or “100% permanent” or “permanent.” Some consumers experience permanent reduction of treated hair over the course of treatment, but published studies have observed that many consumers are not good candidates, and even ideal candidates with light skin and dark hair do not always respond to treatment. See the page on permanent hair reduction below.
  • Guaranteed 0% regrowth.” There is no published clinical data to substantiate this sort of overpromise.
  • Laser electrolysis” or “lasertrolysis.” These quack marketing terms are used to blur important distinctions between laser and electrolysis effectiveness. Laser has several advantages over electrolysis, and vice versa. Terms like these only confuse consumers.
  • Light years ahead of electrolysis.” This quack marketing term suggests that laser is better than electrolysis for consumers, but this is not always the case.

Additional Information

Due to the complicated issues surrounding this hair removal method, I have divided this into several sections. If you’re researching a specific laser type or issue, you can go right to that topic. For a more thorough review, I recommend reading the pages in order.

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Ms. James is a Chicago-based writer and consumer activist who owns hairfacts.com.

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This page was posted on August 21, 2001.