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The Ultimate, Complete Guide To Laser Hair Removal

laser hair removal on a woman's underarm

Laser hair removal is the modern way to achieve perfectly smooth skin. Shaving, waxing and hair removal creams are your typical solutions to removing unwanted hair but are only short-term solutions to a long-term problem. Archaic hair removal methods are becoming less popular in the modern none-stop society of today. Welcome to an effective, long-term solution to hair removal.

What is Laser Hair Removal?

Laser hair removal is the process of removing unwanted hair using a laser. There are many types of lasers which can be used to remove hair depending on varying factors such as your skin type, but we will get to this later on.

A Brief History of Laser Hair Removal

There are 5 key time periods that were crucial to the development of the laser hair removal you see and use today.

  • 1960s:  The first lasers were created (known as wave 1 lasers) and emitted a continuous wave of light. This continuous beam however rendered wave 1 lasers useless as the beam could not be controlled. It caused too much of a risk to the skin being permanently damaged. 
  • 1970s: In the 1970s wave 2 lasers came. These lasers were a vast improvement to the ones seen a decade earlier. These allowed for the targeting of individual hair follicles by sending a beam of energy via a fibre optic probe. The wave 2 laser was not sent off for testing and as a result, was pulled by the FDA as it was difficult to use and ineffective for its claims.
  • 1980s: The wave 3 lasers were created. These lasers were not much of an advancement from the previous. Although they did offer improved targeting than the wave 2 lasers, they were still tedious and ineffective for laser hair removal, which resulted in them being removed from the market.
  • 1990s: 1990 is when laser hair removal started to take its current form in the form of the wave 4 laser, which was finally cleared by the FDA for official use. The lasers used a carbon-based lotion as a chromophore (what the laser targets). The laser heated up the carbon, which would release a kind of shock wave to the hair follicle and destroying it in the process. The only problem with the wave 4 laser is that it could also cause damage to surrounding cells and tissue.
  • 1997: In 1997 the wave 5 lasers was introduced. The wave 5 laser targeted melanin in the hair and was cleared by the FDA. Being easy to use and having a cooling system built in it greatly increase safety and effectiveness. Wave 5 lasers are used all around the world today and are currently the latest in laser hair removal technology.

How Does Hair Grow for Laser Removal to be Effective?

A single hair is composed of a shaft, this is the hair which is visible on the surface of the skin and the root which lies beneath. Located at the base of the root is the hair follicle, this follicle is a mammalian skin organ that produces our hair. 

The production of hair happens in three stages which include the growth stage (anagen), cessation stage (catagen) and the rest stage (telogen). At the end of the growth stage the hair naturally falls out, meaning that at any stage, hairs are being created, being shed and then being replaced by the hair follicle. An important note to make here is that the hairs on the human body are not synchronised to the same growth schedule, meaning that each hair is different. While one may be being created, another is being shed.

Laser Hair Removal Using Candela GentleLASE System:

How Does Laser Hair Removal Work? 

The key principle behind Laser Hair Removal is SPTL (selective photothermolysis). To summarise, it’s the matching of a precise wavelength of light and pulse interval to achieve the optimal effect on the targeted tissue, without causing any surrounding damage to any nearby neighbouring tissue.

Until now, our hair removal was predominantly a razor blade or wax strips. However, because hair has regenerative capabilities, these methods only provided temporary solutions. As many of you reading this know, you can spend a long time in the morning in the shower removing your hair only to see it re-appear days later. However, it was only a matter of time before Melanin was found, which gives hair its colour. There are two types named Eumelanin that gives hair a brown or black colour and pheomelanin which gives blonde and red hair.

A highly concentrated laser is aimed at the hair, which is absorbed by the melanin in the skin. The energy then heats up the hair safely which subsequently damages the follicle (which creates hair), hindering the future growth without harming and damaging skin in the surround areas.

Effective Skin Types for Laser Hair Removal

Varying skin types will provide different results. The Fitzpatrick Colour Codes are often used as a guideline to outline your skin type.

Type I: Highly sensitive, always burns, never tans. eg: Red hair with freckles 

Type II: Very sun sensitive, burns easily, tans minimally. eg: Fair skinned, fair haired Caucasians 

Type III: Sun sensitive skin, sometimes burns, slowly tans to light brown. eg: Darker Caucasians 

Type IV: Minimally sun sensitive, burns minimally, always tans to moderate brown. eg: Mediterranean type Caucasians, some Hispanics 

Type V: Sun insensitive skin, rarely burns, tans well. eg: Some Hispanics, some Blacks

 Type VI: Sun insensitive, never burns, deeply pigmented. eg: Darker Blacks

Skin Types and Laser Hair Removal

  • Light Skin: When it comes to laser hair removal, if you have light skin, you are a good candidate. Usually, if an individual has lighter skin tone, they require fewer treatments than someone with darker toned skin.
  • Medium Skin: People with medium skin tones can still be good candidates, however speaking generally the persons’ hair has a larger role to play. If you have a medium skin tone then more likely than not, you will need more treatments than someone with light coloured skin.
  • Dark Skin: If you have dark skin, previously you would have been told that this particular treatment wouldn’t work for you. However, with the ever-increasing improvements in the laser hair removal industry, there are now lasers for dark skin types too.

Effective Hair Types for Laser Hair Removal

As you will have noticed, if you wear a black t-shirt on a sunny day, you will feel hotter than if you had worn a white t-shirt. What has any of this got to do with laser hair removal? Well, the lighter the colour, the less amount of visible light being absorbed and converted to heat. Laser hair removal systems have taken the t-shirt concept and have applied it to melanin.

Since dark colours (black) convert a higher percentage of light into heat this means that people who have eumelanin, (gives that individual dark-coloured hair) are better candidates for laser hair removal as more heat is produced which increase the chance of the hair follicle being safely destroyed.

Like skin type, your hair type also plays an important role in determining if you are a suitable candidate.

  • Light Hair: Light hair is the hardest to treat. This is because those with light coloured hair such as blonde or red have phemelianin pigment, which is less proficient at absorbing the laser light. 
  • Medium Hair: Medium hair usually covers people that have brown hair (on the lighter side). Just as with the medium skin, a medium hair colour is still treatable, but will most likely require more treatments than someone with dark hair.
  • Dark Hair: As discussed earlier, on anyone with dark hair (black/brown) is going to be a good candidate as the dark hair contains more pigmentation, allowing the laser beam to be absorbed to a larger degree.

Please note: Since white or grey air does not contain any pigment, it is near impossible to treat people with these hair colours.

How Many Sessions Will I Need

This depends on the area being treated and your skin tone/hair type. The average course is between 4 and 12 treatments due to the three stages within the lifecycle of the human hair. Laser hair removal only works in the anagen phase (aka active growth stage) and as 90% of follicles will be in this stage at any one time. A full course of treatments is needed to make sure that all the follicles have been destroyed, hindering future growth. We cater our schedules to the individual, as we know everyone is different.

What Is The Waiting Time Between Treatments?

Once you have completed a treatment, it is usually around 2 weeks before the treated hairs are shed from the skin. After this, the re-growth normally starts to occur 4 weeks later, so usually you will have your following treatment every 6 weeks. However, this can vary depending on the targeted treatment area.

Can I do Laser Hair Removal Treatment Every Two Weeks? 

If you were to have laser hair removal treatment every two weeks, it would not be as effective and see the results you like. You will not be in the anagen phase of hair growth, which is the optimum time for removal.

How Long Does Laser Hair Removal Take? 

The average session duration is approximately 30 minutes, but can take up to an hour depending on the area that is being treated and your hair type. Larger body areas will take up the full hour but you can be done in minutes if it’s only a small facial area being treated.

Treatment Areas

Laser hair removal can be effective for both the face and body, targeted pretty much any area which has hair growth.

Top 5 Laser Hair Removal Areas for Women:

1. Upper Lip

2. Under Arms

3. Bikini Line

4. Stomach

5. Legs

Top 5 Laser Hair Removal for Men Areas:

1. Sideburns

2. Back

3. Stomach

4. Arms

5. Buttocks

Is Laser Hair Removal Permanent? 

Laser hair removal is known as a hair reduction solution. Even though some people who have the treatments see permanent results, generally speaking, it reduces the number of hairs that can grow in any given area. Don’t be fooled by the word reduction, however, as you can generally expect to see a 75% – 95% hair removal. Obviously, this will depend on varying factors such as your hair and skin type as well as other factors we will discuss further on.

What Should I do Before Getting Laser Hair Removal?

Preparation

There are a few things that you should do to prepare before your treatment. Firstly and most importantly, you should have had a consultation with a dermatologist to understand the laser hair removal process. This consultation will include topics such as how the procedure works, whether are there any side effects and whether you would be a good candidate depending on your hair and skin colour.

Read our full guide on laser hair removal preparation.

Patch Test

Before you start your full course of treatments, you should get a patch test done in the area you want your laser hair removal. This is very important as it will determine the intensity of the laser energy that will be required to achieve optimum results, as well as revealing any side effects or problems that could arise from the treatment. You would rather a problem occur on the patch test as only a small area will be affected rather than undergoing a full treatment. The main aim of the patch test is to fine-tune the laser to yourself and to reveal if side effects or problems may occur with the treatment. This will minimise any chance of any side effects occurring and maximise the effectiveness of your results.

Avoid Sunbeds And Tanning

The skin should be kept as natural as possible. It is usually recommended that tanning should be avoided for around a month to six weeks prior to treatment. Also, the same goes for any fake tan sprays and creams, these need time to completely fade before your treatment.

No Waxing, Plucking and Tweezing

Because the hair is required to be in the follicle, you should not wax, pluck, tweeze and thread for around 3–4 weeks prior to treatment. However, the exception to this rule is if you are having laser hair removal on your face, as hair on the facial area grows back at a faster rate, normally avoid the above techniques for a minimum of 2 weeks before. If you require removing your hair, shaving is permitted, as this method keeps the hair and follicle intact.

Also in addition to the above you should refrain from bleaching your hair.

Prepare The Skin

The skin should be cleansed from any creams, lotions and cosmetics.

What Should I do After my Laser Hair Removal Appointment?

After care is just as important as preparing for laser hair removal. To make sure that you achieve the best results, you should follow these post treatment guidelines.

Immediately After Laser Hair Removal

Immediately after your treatment, you will most likely experience redness and bumping of the skin. This usually lasts for around 2–3 hours after the treatment, however depending on your skin type, if you have sensitive skin it can take or day or two for this to subside. If you experience any discomfort you can apply a cold compress to the area. Some after sun treatments can also be used, however make sure to ask your clinician before you apply.

Avoid Sun Exposure

You should avoid spending too much time in the sun after treatments. Sun cream should be used at all times throughout the course of the treatments, using an SPF 25 or higher.

Don’t Irritate The Treated Area 

Do not irritate the treated area by scratching or picking at the affected area. Avoid touching the treated area where possible. 

Bathing and Showering In between Laser Hair Appointments 

You may continue to wash yourself, however the treated area should only be washed with a mild soap. Avoid scrubbing and make sure to dry yourself through the process of patting and not rubbing when drying yourself with a towel.

It is important to mention that anywhere from between 5 to around 30 days after your treatment you may see the shedding of the hair. Some people understandably mistake this for new growth. You can help remove this hair by washing it very gently with a wash cloth.

Does Laser Hair Removal Hurt?

This is one of the most common questions that surround laser hair removal. Many people have the treatment done without the need for anaesthetic, however to reduce any chance of pain an anaesthetic cream can be applied to the area beforehand to numb the treatment area immediately.

Most modern laser hair removal devices also have inbuilt cooling systems, which also help to reduce any pain that may be felt.

Because pain tolerance varies between each individual, some people will feel some pain whilst others will hardly feel a thing. Most people that do feel pain describe it as feeling as an elastic band being snapped across the skin.

What are the Benefits of Laser Hair Removal?

Permanently Reduces Hair Growth

Say goodbye to shaving & waxing. More people are choosing laser for their method of hair removal. It is fast, effective, safe and a great investment in yourself if you want a lifetime convenience solution.

A cost-effective and modern treatment

Laser hair removal provides a long term solution in comparison to temporarily methods of hair removal, such as shaving & waxing, which can lead to spending more time and money in your lifetime. Laser hair removal provides optimum results in 6-8 sessions for permanent hair reduction.

Prevented ingrown hairs with laser hair removal

Ingrown hairs occur when shaved or plucked hair grows back into the skin, which can cause skin infections, pain and scarring. Laser hair removal works by targeting the hair follicle and the root, resulting in the laser inhibiting the hair’s ability to grow without causing damage to the surrounding area. Even the most sensitive skin can be treated.

See more about ingrown hairs for laser hair removal.

Laser Hair Removal Side Effects

Laser hair removal is FDA approved and is generally a safe procedure when carried out by a fully qualified and experienced laser hair clinician. Some of the side effects can include:

Normal Side Effects

These side effects are normal and are experienced by the majority of people that get laser hair removal treatment.

• Redness of the skin

• Tingling

• Numbness

• Itching

Temporary Side Effects

As the title suggests, these side effects are temporary and can appear and disappear within a short period of time.

• Redness of the skin

• Slight Swelling

• Skin Blistering (chances of this happening with modern laser hair removal systems that have inbuilt cooling systems is rare).

Hyper Pigmentation – This again is quite rare and mainly seen on people that have dark skin

Herpes and Abnormal Scarring

Anyone who carries herpes could see an outbreak with laser hair removal. This can usually be solved by antiviral medication being administered beforehand. Also, anyone who has a history of abnormal scarring should speak to the clinician beforehand. If you are a carrier of herpes or have a history of abnormal scarring you should speak to your local GP before deciding on getting laser hair removal just to make sure the treatment will be safe for yourself.

Diet 

Should the foods you eat have an effect on laser hair removal? Well, generally it doesn’t, however, Beta Carotene can interfere with the treatment.

Beta Carotene is a group of natural chemicals that are known as carotenes or carotenoids. You have probably heard the word carotene before and know that it is responsible for the orange colour found in vegetables and fruit such as carrots.

Some example foods that contain Beta Carotene include carrots, squash, broccoli, lettuce and sweet potatoes.

Because Beta Carotene is deposited in the skin, it produces a slight yellow/orangey colour to your skin. This absorbs the laser energy, which in effect stops it from reaching the hair follicle. As Beta Carotene remains in the body for months after it is eaten, it is recommended that anyone wanting to have laser hair removal should limit the amount of Beta Carotene they ingest.

Advanced Laser Hair Technology

The London Premier Laser clinic uses the latest, state-of-the-art laser technology. The system we use is called Candela GentleLASE. The Candela GentleLASE is great for laser hair removal but can also be used to treat other medical conditions.

Please watch the video below to learn more about the Candela GentleLASE system.

Does the NHS do Laser Hair Removal? 

As laser hair removal isn’t necessary for health reasons, the NHS does not really offer this service. Being a predominantly cosmetic procedure, you will need to a clinic to visit to administer this treatment. However, there may be exceptional or extreme circumstances in which you will qualify funding for. 

See our Laser Hair Removal clinics across London and Surrey.

Laser Hair Removal London and Surrey 

We have state-of-the-art clinics with expert skin technicians across our 10 clinics in London and Surrey. Book your free laser hair removal consultation, where we will talk through what you’re looking for and give a tailored plan for you. Get in touch if you have any further questions about laser hair removal or to book an appointment. 

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