Health: Hair today, gone tomorrow with laser hair removal
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If you are tired of shaving, waxing or plucking unwanted hair, then now is the time to consider laser hair removal as advanced technology has made this procedure simple, effective and affordable.
The history of hair removal goes back to the Greeks and Romans who used pumice stones to remove unwanted hair. The Native Americans used sharpened stones or shells to tweeze or abrade, while the ancient Turks invented the first “Nair” product using a combination of rose water, arsenic, quicklime and yellow sulfate.
Modern men and women continue to desire the removal of unwanted hair for various reasons. Most are simply tired of shaving underarm, leg and bikini areas. Some wish to be rid of pesky facial hair or general body hair. Whatever the reason, it is now easy for just about anyone to safely and quickly remove unwanted hair. Today’s methods of hair removal are much more effective and gentler than those of our ancestors.
Removing hair above the skin is called depilation and includes shaving, chemical hair removal (e.g. Nair) and bleaching solutions. Removing hair below the skin surface is called epilation and includes plucking, waxing, electrolysis and laser hair removal. Epilation is much more effective than depilation for long lasting or even permanent hair removal, and the lasers rule.
Laser Hair Removal
The hair follicle growth starts 2-6 mm below the skin surface, in the bulb, which is surrounded by a nourishing matrix. The bulge, located above the bulb, houses the stem cells that are required for hair follicle regeneration. These critical areas (bulb and bulge) must be destroyed for successful hair reduction.
Laser light works to remove hair due to the light being selectively absorbed by the melanin pigment in hair follicles. The light energy is converted to heat, which diffuses into and injures the bulb and the bulge without damaging the surrounding tissue.
The best candidates for laser hair removal have dark hair and light skin, and the hair needs to be darker than the skin color. Red hair is difficult to remove and blonde hair is very difficult. White or gray hair lacks the necessary melanin thus laser hair removal is not possible. Since the dark melanin pigment absorbs the laser light energy, dark or tanned skin is at more risk of absorbing the energy which can cause burns, scarring and pigment changes.
Terminal hair is the coarse hair that grows on our head, beard, underarm, groin, arms and legs. Velus hair is the soft, downy hair that covers our entire body. Laser hair removal is best for terminal hair because it will absorb the laser energy well due to its more typical thick and dark characteristics.
Hair growth occurs in three cycles, anagen (growth), catagen (transition) and telogen (resting). Laser energy only works to eliminate hair during the anagen phase, which at any given time is occurring in about 70-80 percent of the hairs on the upper lip and beard, and only about 20-30 percent of the hairs on the other body areas. Anagen phase lasts several years, catagen a few weeks, and telogen a few months.
Multiple treatments are necessary for hair removal because only a portion of the hair is in anagen phase at any given time. The different growth phases explain why some body areas can be treated every four to six weeks and others every 6-8 weeks, and why some body areas need more treatment than others. Lighter skin types typically need three to five treatments while darker skin types may need six to 10 treatments. Beware of clinics that offer hair removal treatments too frequently — the only thing they are removing is money from your pocket.
Laser hair removal is safe and effective only in the hands of an experienced specialist. There are numerous details that go into making laser so effective for hair removal, such as considering skin type, hair color, body area, laser power and wavelength. Making laser safe and comfortable depends on all of the above plus understanding how to cool the skin during and after treatment to avoid burns.
The newest generation of laser delivers energy only in a therapeutic range, precisely heating the target with little or no damage or discomfort. “In-motion” technology is another advance that allows the laser to always be on the move while treating, making it quicker and virtually pain-free. The result is safe, quick and effective hair removal that lasts. Involving no downtime, you can continue with all your regular activities immediately after treatment.
Also important with hair removal is to consider whether hair growth is excessive and reflects an underlying health disorder. I often get referrals from our laser center to investigate the cause of excess hair growth. Removing the hair with laser is great but more important is to fix the original disorder, which makes the treatment that much more successful and also improves the general health of our patients.
Free Press health columnist Scott Rollins, M.D., is board certified with the American Board of Family Practice and the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. He specializes in bioidentical hormone replacement, thyroid and adrenal disorders, fibromyalgia and other complex medical conditions. He is founder and medical director of the Integrative Medicine Center of Western Colorado (www.imcwc.com) and Bellezza Laser Aesthetics (www.bellezzalaser.com). Call 970-245-6911 for appointments or more information.
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