Laser hair removal has come a long way since the first laser for hair removal received FDA clearance in the mid 1990's. Older generation lasers were slow, very painful and worked only on individuals with very dark hair and very light skin. Today, lasers can work on all skin colors and some lasers are even safe for treating tanned skinned.
When considering a hair removal laser treatment, consumers should ask the following questions:
1) Is this laser FDA approved for hair removal on my skin type and hair color?
There are several lasers for hair removal available. No one laser is ideal for every individual. Depending on your skin color and hair color, some lasers will be more effective than others.
The Ruby Laser:
This is the "original " hair removal laser. Its deep red color at 694nm is very well absorbed by the melanin pigment in hair, making it an excellent choice for fine and light hair. However, because melanin is present in the skin as well, the Ruby laser cannot be used on patients with skin that is not very light, including tanned skin. Because of this limitation, slow repetition rate, and relatively small spot size, Ruby lasers have become less popular for laser hair removal in recent years.
The Alexandrite Laser:
This laser produces reddish light. With its large (up to 18mm) spot size and high repetition rate, the Alexandrite laser is the fastest hair removal laser, and is suitable for rapid treatment of large body areas in patient with light to olive complexion. An entire back can be treated in less than 30 minutes.
The Diode Laser:
This laser, consists of a high power laser diode emitting infrared (invisible) light at ~800-808nm. The longer wavelength allows deep penetration into the skin and safety for darker skin types, but with less efficacy for lighter and finer hair.
The long pulse Nd:YAG:
This laser can be used on all skin types, including tanned skin. Large spot sizes and fast repetition rates allow large areas to be treated quickly. Disadvantages include more discomfort during treatment and less effective clearance for fine and light hairs than the other hair removal lasers.
IPL devices are not lasers, because they emit non-coherent light of many different wavelengths. However, because most of the light energy is in the shorter wavelengths, treatment of darker skin types is less effective than with the appropriate laser.
2) What is the spot size of the laser?
A larger spot size offers not only the advantage of faster treatment, but also additional safety and efficacy. As spot size increases, a lower percentage of the delivered light energy scatters outside of the treatment area, increasing the depth of pentration, and allowing a lower energy setting to be used for treatment.
3) What type of cooling system is the laser equipped with?
It is important that a laser have consistent cooling in order to ensure patient safety and comfort.
4) Is there a board-certified physician on site?
Although complications with new lasers for hair removal are rare, in the event of a complication, you need to know who will provide medical attention.
5) Are treatments sold in a package or one at a time?
Because every person will respond at a slightly different rate, and some individuals will require more treatments than others for complete clearance, most laser centers will offer individual sessions.
6) Are complimentary consultations and spot tests available? You should be able to meet the technician and experience a pulse or two before committing to a treatment.
Kile Law owns Blue Water Spa, http://www.bluewaterspa.com a plastic surgery medical spa and laser center with her husband, Dr. Michael Law. Blue Water Spa was voted one of the top four medical spas in America 2005 by American Spa Magazine.
Kile was appointed to the 2005 advisory board of the Day Spa association. She is the winner of the 2004 ABBIES Award for best editorial feature in a spa publication and she was honored as humanitarian of the year in the Spa Industry 2005 by the Southern Spa Conference.