Unwanted hair is a major self-esteem issue for many patients and the desire to deal with this embarrassing problem has fuelled proliferation of safe and effective treatment modalities. Traditionally, waxing, shaving, electrolysis, tweezing and threading have been commonly used to combat unwanted facial and body hair. More recently, lasers and light-based technologies have been introduced in hope of achieving permanent hair reduction. These latest modalities have proven effective and offer a truly lasting solution to those concerned with excessive hair. This article will review the laser and light-based technologies and their usefulness in treating unwanted hair. For more skin and hair care tips and facts, visit www.DermatologyCare.ca
What's Too Much Hair?
What is unwanted hair? How much hair is too much hair? The answers depend on the cultural and societal aspects of the times in which we live. Recently, western culture considers women's facial hair, excessive arm and leg hair as well as the chest and breast hair to be undesirable. In addition, underarm hair and excessive bikini hair are considered unwanted hair in most western countries. As these examples indicate, the issue of unwanted hair likely affects most if not all the women. Men are not immune to this problem as the latest male models proudly show their hairless chests and backs resulting in shifting public expectations.
How Lasers Work:
Laser and light-based (Intense Pulsed Light [IPL]) technologies are founded on the principle that the energy can be absorbed by the color in hair follicles. Such absorption would generate enough heat that the target tissue (growing portion of the hair follicle) is damaged or destroyed spearing the surrounding skin components. In order for this successful interaction to occur, several things need to happen.
First, the energy of the light has to get to the target area. This means that light has to penetrate deep into the skin. Generally speaking, the higher the wavelength of light the deeper it will penetrate the skin. It cannot be absorbed by the natural pigment in the skin meaning that there has to be a difference between the color of the skin and the color of the hair. As such the ideal patient would have dark hair and light skin. This produces challenges for patients who have red or blond hair and light skin. Similarly, patients with dark hair and dark skin face a similar dilemma.
Second, there has to be enough energy to damage and/or destroy the target tissue. This means that underpowered devices would only temporarily stun the hair growth rather then produce sustained hair reduction. Such cases are unfortunately seen with some devices that do not deliver sufficient energy creating disappointed customers.
Knowing the necessary parameters for successful hair reduction, we can analyze multiple devices that are currently available. Most commonly used lasers with the wavelengths of 694-, 755-, 810-, 1064-nm, offer substantiated benefits in reducing hair density permanently. The lower wavelength lasers (694-, 755-, 810-nm) are safe in patients with dark hair and light skin whereas the lasers with higher wavelength (such as 1064 nm) can treat patients with darker skin types. Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) is a device that has a continuum of wavelengths from approximately 550 to 1200 nm and as such offer broad spectrum of treatments. Different filters can be used to effect different hair/skin type combinations resulting in excellent results in permanent hair reduction.
With all the latest technology available, lasers and IPL devices truly offer a choice for most patients. It is important that proper device be used for the right setting. That selection should be made by trained medical professionals knowledgeable in the science of both hair growth and laser/IPL devices. It is reassuring to know that the quest to eliminate unwanted facial and body hair is met with such a plethora of available technologies. Finally, this common problem can be easily managed resulting in permanent hair reduction, more confident self and hopefully restored self-esteem.
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Mariusz J. A. Sapijaszko, MD FRCPC is the Director of the Western Canada Dermatology Institute located in Edmonton, Alberta. He is also the Clinical Assistant Professor at the Division of Dermatology, University of Alberta, in Edmonton. His areas of expertise include cosmetic and laser surgery. Learn more on his www.youthfulimage.com