How Does Laser Hair Removal Work?

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If you’re thinking about getting laser hair removal treatment, it’s best to know a little bit about how it works.

The process can be quite complex, but if you know the basics then it’ll help you make a decision about whether you want the treatment or not. It will also help you understand why one treatment isn’t enough to get good results.

Hair Follicles & Hair Removal

Hair follicles are the most important part of hair removal. As you probably know follicles produce hair. No new follicles are created after we’re born but they have an incredible ability to repair themselves. They go through three stages of  growth and at any one time, they will be in a certain stage. These stages of growth are very important to hair removal treatments. Let’s look at them:

  • Anagen – This is the active growth phase that follicles enter. Hair can be in this phase for quite a long time (years!). Hair growth varies depending on person, and part of the body, but typically it will grow 1cm per month. Eventually something (science isn’t exactly sure what) causes the hair follicle to enter the next phase…
  • Catagen – This phase doesn’t last as long. The follicle stops producing hair and shrinks to a fraction of its size . The follicle detaches itself from the blood supply but the hair doesn’t fall out yet, even though it’s not fully attached to the follicle.
  • Telogen – This is the phase where the old hair is pushed out. It is often described as the resting phase. At the end of this phase (which lasts around 5 weeks) the follicle reattaches itself to the blood supply. This means it’s ready to begin the growing Anagen phase again. So the whole process starts over again.

So hair falling out is actually normal. It’s a natural part of the life cycle of your hair. Keep these definitions in mind while we tell you exactly how the devices work.

How The Devices Work

The device targets the dark pigments in the hair – the melanin. Once the dark pigments are located by the laser it converts the light energy to heat energy which is then absorbed by the hair follicles. This damages the hair follicle, causes the hair to drop out and stops it from producing hair. That’s the basics of how it works.


The Reason for Multiple Treatments

However this doesn’t happen with all of the hair follicles in a certain area. Because some of them are in a non active resting phase they will get ignored by the laser. Then they will enter the usual growth phase unharmed. This is why you need several treatments at a clinic several months apart. You need to make sure you treat your hair when it’s in the anagen phase. If one hair follicle isn’t in the growth stage, there’s a good chance it will be a few months later.

A certain percentage of these hair follicles will be so badly damaged that their capacity to reduce hair will be permanently reduced. However this won’t happen with all of them. But the more treatments you have, the more permanent hair reduction you should see. Unfortunately there isn’t a chance of good results with just one treatment.

Who Can’t Get Laser Hair Removal Treatment?

From what we’ve said above you should be able to work out who can’t get laser hair removal. We said that the devices work by targeting the dark pigments, called melanin, of your hair. However, if your hair is blond, ginger or grey the laser won’t be able to target your hair follicles. There’s less melanin in these hair colors.

Skin Color

Your skin color also matters. If you have dark skin the laser may get confused; it will have difficulty telling the hair from the skin. So even though your hair follicles may be targeted, so would your skin. This can be very dangerous as it can result in skin burns.

The best candidates for the treatment are those with pale skin and dark hair. It’s crucial to consult with a professional before getting any sort of laser hair removal treatment. They will be able to judge if your skin type is suitable.

What About When it Doesn’t Work

The science behind laser hair removal well accepted. Check out these studies to read more about the trials conducted:
Trial 1
Trial 2

But still, if you’ve done your research you’ll see people who aren’t happy with their treatment. There could be a few reasons for this dissatisfaction.

Firstly, as we’ve said before, the treatment is long term. Hopefully now knowing about the different stages of hair growth you can see why it’s impossible to judge laser hair removal after only a few weeks or months. Some people judge the treatment after just one session and expect immediate results. In many of these cases the treatment probably was working but it was given insufficient time for the results to actually show.

Also very cheap treatment may be cheap for a good reason. It could be the practitioner lacks experience or the right equipment to treat a patients specific needs. Everyone has different skin and requirements so apply exactly the same treatment to everyone isn’t the best process. So as with everything the practitioner really does matter. Just because there are some unskilled ones out there doesn’t mean the treatment as a whole doesn’t work.

However it is possible that some treatments just don’t work on an individual. This is true of virtually all beauty treatments and medical procedures. There are always incompatibilities which arise where the procedures don’t work as expected. The treatment is still good even though 0.1% of the time it may not work as intended.

Update:

There have been recent advancements where lasers can better target ginger and blond hair. The results still aren’t as good as if you have dark hair, but it can still get some pretty good results. There have also been advances which allow the laser to target the hairs of people with dark skin using a combination of technologies. Speak to your practitioner to see if they can offer such treatments.

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