What's the Low Down on Laser Hair Removal?

Waxing, shaving, plucking, chemical depilatories, sugaring and threading. Just a few methods women use to remove unwanted body hair. All of these methods yield fairly short-lived results, wreak havoc on the skin, can be painful and in some cases, downright torturous. There is a more permanent and more comfortable alternative to these options. The alternative is laser hair removal, also known as intense pulsed light therapy.

Laser hair removal is one of the most of the most commonly performed cosmetic procedures in the United States, as reported by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. In their annual report, Plastic Surgery Statistics, they report that 1.1 million laser hair removal procedures were performed in 2015 and that laser hair removal is up 52 percent since 2000.

The laser hair removal procedure uses an intense laser light beam that is passed over the skin. This laser targets melanin, the dark pigment that gives color to hair and skin. Melanin absorbs light, which allows the laser to destroy the hair follicle instantly.

Most women choosing laser hair removal opt to have the procedure performed on their legs, face or bikini line, but it is used in any area where the patient has unwanted hair. Some patients use the treatment on the chin or upper lip to remove facial hair, and others choose the treatment for their arms if their hair is dark or excessive. The treatment is popular because it is quick, with each pulse of the laser light taking only fraction of a second. The procedure also treats multiple hairs at the same time, allowing technicians to cover large areas quickly, and small areas almost instantly. Technicians usually cover most areas in less than an hour.

"Laser hair removal is a popular procedure for many women," says Dr. Mona Alquali, M.D., FACOG. "Hormonal changes caused by pregnancy, perimenopause and menopause cause fluctuations in hair growth, which may cause frustration and feelings of self-consciousness," she explains. Alquali treats patients at her Clinton, Iowa, practice for their obstetric and gynecological needs, but also provides a wide variety of convenient cosmetic procedures, like laser hair removal.

The procedure is safe and effective, but some patients may experience side effects like darkening of the skin in the area of treatment. This is usually temporary. Other patients experience the inverse and have lightening of the skin. This situation happens more often in patients who have darker skin tones, as laser hair removal is often more successful on fair complexions. In most cases, this is also temporary. Some rarely seen side effects include blistering or scarring. Hair may also be resistant to the treatment, and total hair removal may be incomplete.

"The important thing to remember about laser hair removal is that it is not permanent, but it is long lasting," says Alquali. Laser hair removal slows the growth of new hair considerably, but many patients go months or years without hair regrowth.

To prepare for laser hair removal, patients should let their hair grow for about a week. This is to make sure the hairs are visible to ensure effective treatment. "Do not wax for three weeks before your scheduled treatment," says Alquali. During the procedure, laser hair removal patients are given protective eye gear to protect their eyes from the flashes of light emitted by the laser during the procedure. Immediately after treatment, patients may be given ice packs or soothing creams to prevent inflammation. For one to two days after the laser hair removal procedure, patients may feel as if they have a moderate sunburn. This feeling should go away quickly, but patients are encouraged to use soothing moisturizers like aloe vera if they are uncomfortable. After the procedure, patients should expect the hair in the area of treatment to begin falling out. Patients should avoid prolonged sun exposure for at least six weeks, both to ensure results and to protect themselves from complications, skin darkening and skin irritation.

Patients with questions about laser hair removal and if it is right for them should discuss the procedure with the physician. IPL laser therapy also benefits patients seeking treatment for acne scars, rosacea, freckles, and sunspots.

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