Sharon Hochhauser, FNP-C with Advanced Dermatology PC Offers Tips to Patients Going ‘Under the Light’ to remove unwanted hair

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Unwanted Hair? Let There Be Light – Laser Light, That Is!

Sharon Hochhauser, Board-Certified Family Nurse Practitioner

Indeed, the thickness of skin, skin pigmentation, and hair color are all factors affecting the efficacy of laser hair removal.

When it comes to removing unwanted hair, let there be light.

So, says certified family nurse practitioner Sharon Hochhauser, who emphasizes that advancements in laser light technologies and technique, along with ongoing studies of hair biology, have made hair removal from almost any part of the body effective – and long-term. “We have come a long way since the mid-1990s when laser light was first applied successfully to skin in order to damage hair follicles as a way of preventing hair regrowth,” says Hochhauser of Advanced Dermatology, PC and the Center for Laser & Cosmetic Surgery. “Today, patients can undergo laser therapy with maximum benefits and few side effects.”

Researchers agree. However, in a study published online in April 2020 in the journal Dermatology Practical & Conceptual, authors suggest that photoepilation – therapeutic light therapy -- remains most effective in patients with “relatively fair skin” and dark hair. “The major challenge,” the scientists write, is “development of technology that not only permanently and significantly reduces the number of hairs but also provides permanent and complete hair removal for all skin and hair types and colors.”

“Indeed, the thickness of skin, skin pigmentation, and hair color are all factors affecting the efficacy of laser hair removal,” Hochhauser explains. “Photoepilation is most successful when a strong color contrast exists between skin and hair pigments. The melanin in the hair follicle is what is supposed to absorb laser light, leaving the remaining skin cells unaffected. Melanin is the biochemical that gives color to hair and skin.”

Laser therapy oftentimes proves less effective in patients with minimal differences between hair color and skin tone. Outcomes also can be impacted by hair follicles not able to soak up light readily, namely those that are white, blond, red or grey in color. The good news is that “continuing development of new laser devices is rapidly providing more treatment options for patients with darker skin tone and those who have more lightly colored follicles,” Hochhauser says.

Laser and intense pulsed light (IPL) therapies work by directing specific wavelengths and duration of light to an area of the body targeted for hair removal. When the melanin in the hair follicles soaks up the light, the basal cells within the follicles heat up and die. Scientists say the “clearance rate” of follicles subjected to laser light is 20 percent to 75 percent, which is why as many as six or more laser sessions may sometimes be necessary to remove nearly all unwanted hair growth from an area.

Though their end goal is primarily cosmetic, light therapies designed to remove undesired hair from highly visible areas like armpits, legs, arms, upper lip, back – even the bikini line -- are considered medical procedures that can pose risks, such as skin irritation, skin pigment changes, and, on rarer occasions, blisters, burns and infections. That is why they should be performed by trained health care professionals, Hochhauser states.

Of course, the ultimate intent of hair removal is to enhance a patient’s quality of life -- a key reason why the number of laser hair procedures has been climbing – well ahead of less effective – and slower -- methods like waxing, tweezing and even electrolysis (heating of skin using an electric current), Hochhauser adds.

A 2018 report predicts overall market rate of growth for hair removal products and procedures will average about 16 percent annually through 2026. The increased safety of devices, including the highly precise diode laser, and greater demand for less-invasive treatments are fueling the increase, the report states.

One specific area of growth is in home IPL therapy devices, which are becoming increasingly less expensive. However, Hochhauser warns that such devices lack strict safety review by the federal Food and Drug Administration, are not supported by any long-term studies demonstrating their effectiveness in comparison with laser therapy performed by health professionals and may fail to meet consumers’ expectations for complete hair removal.

For patients who are considering laser or other therapeutic light therapy to remove unwanted hair, Hochhauser offers these tips:

  •     Consult first with a dermatologist who has extensive clinical experience in hair removal. Not every patient is an appropriate candidate for laser therapy. Patients taking medications that increase skin photosensitivity could be burned in the procedure. Laser therapy also is less effective in patients with hormonal imbalances or hormonal changes due to pregnancy or disease.
  •     Expect the area of the skin treated by laser to feel irritated – akin to a sunburn – for a few days following the procedure.
  •     Avoid the sun for five days to seven days after a laser session and wear sunscreen on the treated skin for at least a month after therapy.
  •     Know that the removal of hair is not “100 percent forever.” Some hair follicles will survive and again produce hair, although the new hair may be lighter in color and less visible to others.
  •     “Finally, if you insist on performing the procedure at home with a store-bought device, please read the instructions closely and follow all safety precautions,” Hochhauser advises.

Sharon Hochhauser is a board-certified family nurse practitioner specializing in dermatology with Advanced Dermatology PC.

Advanced Dermatology P.C. and the Center for Laser and Cosmetic Surgery (New York & New Jersey) is one of the leading dermatology centers in the nation, offering highly experienced physicians in the fields of cosmetic and laser dermatology as well as plastic surgery and state-of-the-art medical technologies.

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