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Are All Lasers for Hair Removal Created Equal?

The introduction of laser hair removal ushered in a new era of removing unwanted hair. With this technology, people worldwide have explored this option for hair removal purposes. While the term “laser hair removal” is a convenient category to define a particular form of hair removal, it is important for individuals to understand that there are many different types of lasers for hair removal that have been developed over the years to make treatments safer and more effective.

How Are Lasers for Hair Removal the Same?

All lasers for hair removal emit light energy which is transferred into the hair in the form of heat. The goal to achieve long term or permanent hair removal is to get that energy into the root of the hair, or the hair follicle. One common element consistent to all lasers for hair removal purposes is that multiple treatments will always be necessary. That is because not all hair is actively growing at one time. Hair on our body has growing cycles that differ from one body site to the other. So, at any one time when a laser is being used for hair removal purposes, only a certain percentage of hair can effectively be targeted. Further treatments will be necessary so that hairs not actively growing during one session, may be targeted in future sessions.

How Are Lasers for Hair Removal Different?

While all lasers for hair removal purposes use light energy to damage or destroy hair follicles, lasers differ in terms of their “wavelength”. Think of wavelength as the distance of penetration the laser energy travels. Therefore, the longer the wavelength, the greater the distance the laser energy will travel. When considering hair removal purposes, this has wide reaching implications. For starters, the target for the laser is the hair follicle which can be located several millimeters beneath the surface of the skin. It is no coincidence then that laser technology for hair removal has evolved with each successive generation having a longer wavelength than the one before. This presents two very important considerations for those thinking of laser hair removal. For one, the longer the wavelength, the less energy that can potentially be absorbed in the skin. Less energy that is absorbed into the skin means an increased level of safety to the patient. Second, the longer wavelength may increase the likelihood of damage to the deeper hair follicles. When considering a laser for hair removal purposes, damage to the hair follicle is paramount for long term or permanent results.

Hair Removal Options: Laser or Intense Pulsed Light?

As if understanding the differences in hair removal technology isn’t already confusing enough, many facilities may advertise “laser hair removal” when in fact they are not using a laser at all. Rather, they are utilizing “Intense Pulsed Light” technology – also known as IPL – for hair removal purposes. The IPL device uses a flash lamp technology which essentially blasts a pulse of light across a targeted area. The hope is that the pigment in the hair will absorb most of this light, and then channel that energy into the root of the hair follicle. These devices rarely provide any permanent results and great caution must be taken to ensure that your skin tone is as light as possible to avoid absorption of heat into the skin. Excessive energy absorbed into the skin can cause blisters, pigment changes, or even scarring. For hair removal purposes, IPL devices are found everywhere largely because they fall under a non-medical flash lamp type technology. Hair removal lasers are classified as medical devices and, therefore, can only be purchased and operated by an accredited medical facility.

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