Is Laser Hair Removal Safe?
We are often asked by new patients if laser hair removal is safe. The answer is absolutely, at least when the procedures are done properly. Just like many other areas of medicine, safe and successful laser hair removal is dependent upon the expertise of the practitioner providing the procedure. Safety is also highly correlated with the type of laser technology being used and whether or not that technology is designed for the skin type being treated.
Safe and effective laser hair removal depends on a number of factors
1) Experience of the Practitioner
Depending on your state (or even country), laser hair removal may be performed by physicians, nurses, estheticians or even “technicians”. What’s important to ensure safety – regardless of the person’s title – is how much training and experience they have. Ask how long the employees that perform the laser hair removal procedures have been doing it for. The longer a practitioner has been performing the procedure, the more unique situations they have come across and the better their clinical judgement. It only makes sense that the more experienced your provider is, the safer your laser hair removal will be. At least 1 year of experience providing laser hair removal treatments is a fair benchmark for when they might be considered experienced rather than new.
Is important and many facilities do not offer much of it. Before undertaking a laser hair removal program, ask how many hours of training a practitioner gets before they start doing treatments on their own. Who was the person trained by? Were they trained outside of the facility or in the facility? Were they trained on multiple patients with different skin types and were they trained on a patient with your skin type? All of these are important questions to understand how fully your laser hair removal provider is. At the bare minimum, a laser hair removal practitioner should have 8 hours of supervised training on multiple skin types to have the basic skills to perform the treatments. The training should be conducted by an experience practitioner (at least 2 years of experience) and preferably someone outside that company.
3) Technology Used
There are four types of common laser hair removal technology. For lasers, there are Diode (810 nanometers), Alexandrite (755 nanometers) and Nd:Yg (Yag 1064 nanometers) lasers. The diode and the alexandrite are the most common types of lasers used because they are primarily designed for lighter skin types (Scandinavian up to Hispanics and Asians). Yag lasers are used primarily for darker skin types (African and African American). The fourth type is not actually a laser. IPL (Intense Pulsed Light which is a broad spectrum of light) is commonly referred to as a laser by consumers, but its physical properties are much different and it does not qualify as a laser. Interestingly, this is one of the main reasons that Intense Pulsed Light is not as safe as lasers for permanent hair removal. The concept behind the use of lasers for hair removal (and other skin conditions) is selective photothermolysis. This is the idea that a certain type (wavelength) of light is more highly absorbed in a particular portion of the skin. In the case of laser hair removal, the target is the melanin in the hair follicle. Diode, Alexandrite, Yag and IPL devices all have slightly different absorptive qualities for the melanin in the skin and the melanin in the hair. This makes them safer and more effective on certain skin types and less effective and less safe on other skin types.
Of all these devices, we believe the IPL to be the least effective and least safe and the reason is that the broad spectrum of wavelengths of light and filters used to cut off this light so that it matches the 810, 755 or 1064 wavelengths in the Diode, Alexandrite and Yag lasers mean that the power has to be extremely high. This in turn makes this type of device less safe. Know what type of laser is most appropriate for your skin type and ask if the facility you are considering uses that type (755, 810 or 1064).
Why would a laser hair removal facility choose one laser over another?
The most common skin tones of the patients, the cost of the machines and the expertise of the practitioners all factor in. Because IPL (non-laser) is the most flexible device, many offices choose this one. It’s also the least effective and least safe, but because practices often want to be able to offer fast laser hair removal on multiple skin types, they use even with its drawbacks. Owning multiple lasers or even multiple wavelengths in one laser is expensive, so often the practice will choose one type based on the type of patient they see most often. Finally, practitioners can get comfortable with certain brands or types of technologies and are often averse to switching.
To ensure that you receive a safe and effective laser hair removal program requires some work on your part. Know how much experience the practitioner you are visiting has and what type of technology they use. Are they experienced and also use the right laser for your skin type? If so, you will greatly improve the chances of getting a safe and effective laser hair removal treatment.