Who's a Good Candidate?Lasers and pulsed lights work best on people with dark hair and light skin. There are new devices created to work on light hair and dark skinned people, but from what I've read, they work only 'so-so.'
A new device, Aurora by Syneron, uses both intense pulsed light and radio frequency to treat women with blonde or gray hair, but they are only about 50% as effective as other lasers.
As for dark or tanned skin, lasers can cause discoloration (read why below) unless you use a machine created for dark skin. Ask for the ND Yag laser, states Heather Woolery-Lloyd, MD in the July 2004 issue of InStyle magazine. (Woolery-Lloyd is the director of ethnic skin at the University of Miami).
How it WorksLasers use pulsed light to target, break down and destroy the melanin (dark pigment) in hair. This is why it works only on dark hair. Lasers will also target the melonin in dark skin, which can cause discoloration. According to Michelle, my aesthetician at Completely Bare salon in NYC, hair grows in three phases: growing, resting and shedding. Lasers and pulsed lights targets hair in the growth phase.
When Does Hair Fall Out?Hair falls out within 10-14 days. I use a mild sugar scrub in the shower on the 10th day, which helps exfoliate the skin and remove hair.
What Areas Can be Treated?Lasers and pulsed light target several follicles at once, so you can treat large areas of skin. While it would take years to perform electrolysis on the back or legs, a typical laser hair removal session on both legs usually takes under two hours. Lasers are great for treating the back, shoulders, arm and chest.
For upper lip and chin, lasers work but only on dark hair. If you want to ensure the blonde hairs are zapped, your better bet is electrolysis for permanent hair removal in these areas.
How Long Do They Take?It takes 4-6 laser hair removal sessions spaced 4 weeks apart to see 70-80 percent reduction in hair growth. For best results, Michelle suggests getting maintenance treatments done once a year for a couple years at least.
Are Results Guaranteed?No. Laser hair removal works better on some people than others. No one knows for sure what the regrowth rates are. Some people notice regrowth after several months or years, while others find they never have to shave again. The average experience is 70-80 percent reduction in hair growth if you do a full 4-6 course treatment.
It's worth mentioning that like most technology, lasers have come a long way over the past few years. A friend of mine spent a lot of money to have his back done only to have it fail. He ended up having great success with the much more time-consuming electrolysis.
How to PrepareOnce it's determined what type of laser or pulsed light machine will be used, you'll likely be told to either shave the day of your treatment or three days before. Check with your aesthetician before you show up. I've come in freshly shaved only to be sent home.
What's the Pain Factor?The pulsed light in laser hair removal feels like a rubber band popping against your skin, although some machines perform differently. Not every zap will hurt and I've found some areas (lower legs) hurt more than others (thighs).
I strongly advise taking a couple ibuprofen an hour before your session. Others recommend numbing skin 20 minutes before your session with a spray or cream that contains 4 percent lidocaine. InStyle magazine recommends Gigi's Anesthetic Numbing Spray.
Pick the Right ExpertMany salons advertise cheap and discounted procedures, but I've been told the best places don't have to resort to discounts. Do your homework before signing up for services. Book only with a dermatologist or licensed technician.
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