Being bold is no longer embarrassing. Being hairy is. In the U.S., and more and more so in many other countries, women’s legs and underarms are expected to be hair free. A mustache, hairs on the chin and sideburns may seriously affect a girl’s life in high school. A hairy back may freak out many men in a locker room. It’s a hair free world!

Shaving, waxing, plucking is a daily and boring routine, that costs tens of thousands of dollars over a life time. Electrolysis is more or less history due to pain and never-ending treatment sessions. Laser hair removal is the golden standard of hair therapy of the day. Chin, upper lip, cheeks and sideburns, underarms and bikini are the most popular areas for laser hair reduction.

The primary principle behind laser hair removal is selective photothermolysis of the hair follicle: the laser beam heats and distroys the dark matter (melanin) in the hair bud, while not heating the skin around it. The principle works great on dark hair, which has a lot of melanin, and light color skin, which does not have much pigment.

Many light-based devices, lasers and IPLs, with wavelengths ranging from 300 to 900 nm, are very effective and safe for dark hair removal on light color and untanned skin. But what happens if you have dark or tanned skin with a lot of pigment?

The laser does not know the difference between melanin in the hair follicle and melanin in your skin – and, you guessed it, – it will damage both, resulting in a loss of pigmentation (hypopigmentation) in your skin, blisters and, sometimes, permanent scarring. Does that mean that Asians, Latinos, Africans and even Norwegians permanently living in Florida cannot have laser hair removal? Is there a laser that will “know the difference between melanin in the hair follicle and melanin in the skin?

The answer is a firm “yes’! Nd:YAG laser technology with 1064 nm wavelength is best for darker skinned individuals. If you come to a medical aesthetic practice, your physician should determine your skin type and choose the right laser modality for you. Beware of flight by night spa type facilities with IPLs, diode or Alexandrite lasers. If you have dark skin, make sure that your hair removal facility has a 1064 Nd:YAG. If the provider does not have a 1064 YAG but pushes a sale of another laser or IPL to you, you need to understand that this provider will have to use low energy (fluence) to avoid burns and hipopigmentation. This strategy will result in many more treatment sessions than you expect and potentially low percentage of hair reduction. As a side effect, your hair may weaken but develop resistance to further therapy, and you will end up with fuzzy baby hair, which will be impossible to remove by any laser.

What about laser hair removal for blonde and grey hair?

Use the question as a test of your provider knowledge of the business. If the answer is yes, you can turn around and leave. In laser hair removal, no pigment – no result. Period.

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