With the advancements in Laser Hair Removal technology, almost anyone can successfully receive treatment. Since the 1990s, the number of FDA-approved lasers has greatly increased making laser hair removal accessible to almost everyone. This being said, there are particular characteristics that are ideal for laser hair removal treatment.
Laser hair removal treatments target the dark melanin pigment found in the hair follicle. The melanin pigment absorbs light energy and converts it into heat energy. The heat destroys the hair and inhibits its regrowth by inducing swelling, which triggers the hair follicle to move from the anagen (growing) phase of the hair growth cycle to the catagen (intermediate) and telogen (resting/shedding) phases. The effectiveness of laser hair removal is determined by a number of factors, including the color of the patient’s hair. This is because different shades of hair color contain different melanin pigments, which absorb light energy at different rates. As such, certain shades are more susceptible to the treatment than others. Eumelanin, the melanin pigment found in darker hair colors, absorbs light energy much more readily then pheomelanin, which is found in blonde and red hair. Grey and white hair contain no melanin pigments and are unresponsive to laser treatments.
Consequently, dark hair colors, such as black or brown, respond best to laser hair removal and will require the least number of sessions to complete treatment. In addition to hair color, the thickness or coarseness of the hair is a determining factor in the effectiveness of laser hair removal treatments. Fine hair cannot absorb as much heat as thick, coarse hair, so treatment is less effective and requires more sessions.
Melanin is not only located in hair but is also found in the skin. The darker a person’s skin tone is, the more melanin is present is to absorb the light energy and convert it to heat, making it harder to avoid damaging the surface of the skin. As such, hair removal lasers have to be focused on the target area long enough to heat the hair, but not so long that they heat up and damage the skin. It should be noted that darker-skinned patients are more prone to serious side effects (such as blisters, burns, scabs, and ingrown hairs) than patients with lighter skin tones. Some have experienced skin pigment changes where patches of skin either lighten (hypopigmentation) or darken (hyperpigmentation). These changes can last for months but are very rarely permanent.
However, it is not just the skin and hair tones themselves that are important, but the contrast between the two. This is because the laser needs to be able to differentiate between a patient’s skin and hair in order to lock onto the melanin pigments in the hair follicle. Consequently, patients who experience the best results from laser hair removal treatments have dark, coarse hair, with pale skin.
While these characteristics may make an individual ideal for laser hair removal, there are a number of other factors that also contribute to the effectiveness of the treatment. Because laser hair removal works in part by inducing inflammation, which triggers the hair to shed, patients should refrain from taking medication, such as aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Patients going through both artificial or natural hormonal changes may find laser hair removal treatments are less effective, as these changes often trigger hair regrowth. Similarly, dietary supplements, such as beta-carotene, niacin, and vitamin E, stimulate hair regrowth and therefore, hinder the treatment. Patients should also avoid sunbathing, spray-on and fake-tans, as well as exposure to excessive UV light (such as sunbeds and tanning booths) both before and after treatments.
While there may be ideal characteristics for laser hair removal, that does not mean that treatments will not work for anyone else. Rather, laser hair removal is viable for nearly everyone, it may just be less effective and therefore, require more sessions.