If there is an uncontested number one popular laser treatment in dermatology, it's the one for the removal of unwanted hair. I have not yet come across any person who didn't feel they could use a little less hair on some particular body part. It's the most requested laser treatment among my patients.
Here are a few answers to some to the most frequently asked questions.
Q: Who is a good candidate for laser hair reduction?
A: The ideal situation is a patient with fair skin and dark hair. Most hair reduction lasers target the dark color in the actively growing hair follicles, and the color contrast allows for a more efficient treatment. The gold standard laser is the long-pulsed Alexandrite laser. It can be used on fair skin and light olive color skin as well. There are also Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) and other technologies that can do a good job.
However, over the years, new technologies have evolved to provide safe laser treatments to patients with dark skin. The best laser for dark skin is the long pulsed NdYAG laser and, among many uses, it is utilized to treat razor bumps (pseudofolliculitis barbae) in African American men.
Q: Who is not a good candidate for lasers hair reduction?
A: People with white, very light blond, or red hair are not good candidates for the laser. They lack the pigment in the follicle needed as a target for the laser beam, and cannot be treated effectively.
Q: Why are multiple treatments necessary?
A: The hair grows in several cycles, with only 15-20% of the hairs in the active growth period at any one time. The length of the active growth period varies from one part of the body to the others. The laser can only target the actively growing hairs. Therefore the treatments have to be repeated until all hairs in a given area undergo the active growth phase (called anagen). In my experience, most body areas need on average at least 6 treatments spaced a month or longer from each other for lasting results.
Q: When is the best time to pursue treatments?
A: Usually it's good to get the treatments in the fall, winter and spring. During the summer, people often sport a tan, and tanned skin cannot be lasered without risking pigmentation changes. Similarly, it's a bad idea to go spend time in the sun soon after laser treatments. Hence, skipping the summer is safer, and people can safely get beach ready by the next season.
Q: Where should a patient go for treatments?
A: It's important to find a reputable facility where a board certified dermatologist performs, or in the least supervises the treatments. Proper understanding of the skin and thorough training means less complications, like burns and pigmentation changes, which can result from being in the wrong hands.
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