Less body hair for both men and women, is increasingly desired and deemed more attractive. Hair removal is therefore quite common, with various methods of removing unwanted hair —temporarily or permanently. But the effort and expense required varies, as does the rate of successful hair removal.

There are products that remove hair and other products that reduce the growth of hair.  While some products can be purchased at stores, others are prescribed by dermatologists and used under a doctor’s supervision.

Topical

  • Over-the-counter depilatory products
    • Depilatory or hair removal creams are available without a prescription, and should be used as directed because misuse can burn the skin. It’s important to do a patch test before using a depilatory cream to test for any type of skin irritation or intolerance.

Procedural

  • Shaving
    • Shaving is the most popular hair removal method among men and women. It is inexpensive, fast, convenient and relatively painless. However, the possibility of nicks, cuts, fast regrowth and ingrown hairs has prompted consumer demand for smoother, long-lasting results.Where possible, use a single-blade razor and shave in one direction. Avoid going back and forth in 2 or more directions over shaved sites
  • Threading
    • Threading is a method of hair removal originating in Asia is now popular in Western countries. In threading, a thin (cotton or polyester) thread is doubled, then twisted. It is then rolled over areas of unwanted facial hair, plucking the hair at the follicle level.
    • Threading can be more painful than waxing but the effect lasts for six to 10 weeks.
  • Waxing & Sugaring
    • Waxing involves applying a layer of melted wax to skin, then pulling it off quickly in the opposite direction to hair growth. This pulls hair out by the root and thus slows hair regrowth, which may occur after two to three weeks depending on the individual.
    • Both warm and cold wax techniques are available. Extra caution is necessary withwarm wax to ensure it is not so hot that it burns skin. Redness and sensitivity can last hours after hair removal. Repeated damage to hair follicles, some believe, may eventually result in diminished hair growth at the site of repeated waxing.
    • Negative side-effects include pain during removal, as well as ingrown hairs or folliculitis, scarring, hyperpigmentation and dermatitis. Waxing should be avoided on irritated, sunburned or broken skin. Also avoid waxing if you use certain types of prescription acne creams or take isotretinoin; the wax can pull skin off.
    • Sugaring is similar in its process to waxing. It consists of a soft paste that is applied to skin at the site of desired hair removal, then pulled off. Both methods can be performed at home using kits sold at stores, or at a salon.
  • Electrolysis
    • Electrolysis is the only hair removal method that can permanently remove hair. This method of hair removal acts independently of one’s hair or skin colourThe process involves insertion of a small, fine needle into the hair follicle, followed by use of a small electrical current to damage and then destroy the follicle. There are two main methods:
      • Galvanic electrolysis
        • Galvanic electrolysis uses a direct electrical current to create a chemical reaction that destroys the hair follicle.
      • Thermolysis
        • With thermolysis, a high-frequency alternating current creates vibrations strong enough to heat and destroy hair follicles.

Galvanic electrolysis uses a direct electrical current to create a chemical reaction that destroys the hair follicle. With thermolysis, a high-frequency alternating current creates vibrations strong enough to heat and destroy hair follicles. A blend of the two approaches is sometimes used.

Effectiveness depends on the technician’s skill. Each treatment lasts between 15 minutes and an hour. This method can be painful; a topical anesthetic cream applied an hour before the procedure can reduce discomfort.

Electrolysis can cause redness in treated areas, as well as scarring and increased or reduced pigmentation. It should not be used by people who have pacemakers.

  • Intense pulsed light
    • Intense pulsed light (IPL) machines are not lasers. These machines use a highly concentrated beam of light, often in conjunction with a cream or gel, to burn the hair shaft. IPLs produce a wide bandwidth of light that can heat all the surrounding tissue, making it less effective in disrupting hair growth and a higher risk for burns, especially on darker skin.
    • Risks of IPL include eye injury, skin pigmentation changes, scarring, and paradoxical hair stimulation.
    • Given the significant risk of injury,it is advisable to undergo this procedure after consultation with a dermatologist, or under a dermatologist’s supervision.
laser hair removal diagram
  • Laser hair removal
    • Lasering consists of using a targeted laser beam to penetrate and destroy hair follicles that produce hair. Results can last three to six months or longer before hair grows back visibly. A series of six to eight treatments, spaced eight to 12 weeks apart, is usually required for permanent results.
    • Potential side-effects include blistering, skin discolouration, redness, swelling and scarring. Pigmentation problems, such as white spots where lasering has occurred, tend to be a greater risk with tanned or darker skin.
  • Important considerations prior to laser hair removal:
    • Am I a candidate for this procedure? —Laser technology works by targeting dark pigment. Certain lasers work best on pale skin and dark, coarse hair. Darker-skinned patients with black hair will require a different type of laser. Blond or white hair does not readily respond to laser therapy. In general, the lighter the skin and the darker/coarser the hair, the better the results.
    • How does laser hair removal work? — Lasers designed for permanent hair reduction emit wavelengths of light that are absorbed by the pigment in the hair (melanin). If the surrounding skin is lighter than the colour of the hair, the energy of the laser is concentrated in the hair shaft, destroying it without affecting the skin or the follicle.
    • The key to a safe, efficient treatment is the device’s ability to consistently deliver a very narrow bandwidth that destroys the hair follicle, but does not damage the surrounding skin. While the laser emits a beam that only heats the hair shaft, heat is transmitted from the hair shaft to surrounding tissue for several milliseconds after the laser pulse. Several lasers feature cooling attachments that cool surrounding skin to fully absorb any heat transmitted.
    • Is laser hair removal permanent? —Hair removal lasers have been in use since 1997, and are approved for “permanent reduction.” They permanently disrupt hair production, provided the right type of hair is treated with an appropriate kind of laser, at effective settings.
    • However, hair removal lasers do not remove 100 per cent of the hair in an area. With proper treatments, laser can remove most of the coarse hair on a body area, but it cannot remove finer hair. To achieve total hair removal in any area, most people need follow-up electrolysis treatments to remove remaining finer hairs.
    • Any hair that grows in after 12 months is new hair that can develop due to numerous factors such as age, medical conditions or hormonal changes.
    • Is laser hair removal painful? —Generally, laser hair removal is not much more painful than waxing, but the sensation is different. Each pulse resembles the feeling of a rubber band snapping against the skin for a moment. Pain is only felt while the laser is hitting the skin; it doesn’t last. Most people do not require anesthetic cream, though one can be prescribed to more sensitive patients to apply prior to the procedure.

Due to the significant risks involved in laser hair removal which can include, eye injury, skin pigmentation changes, scarring, skin burns and paradoxical hair stimulation, it is advised to undergo this procedure after consultation with a dermatologist, or under a dermatologist’s supervision.

laser hair removal diagram

Lasering consists of using a targeted laser beam to penetrate and destroy hair follicles that produce hair. Results can last 3 to 6 months before hair grows back visibly. A series of 6 to 8 treatments is usually required for permanent results.

Potential side effects that can occur with lasering, include blistering, skin discolouration, redness, swelling and scarring. Pigmentation problems, such as white spots where lasering has occurred, tends to be more of a risk with tanned or darker skin.

Questions to ask before seeking laser hair removal

Am I a Candidate for Laser Hair Removal?

Laser technology works by targeting dark pigment. Therefore, it works best on pale skin and dark coarse hair. The lighter the skin and the darker and coarser the hair, the better are the results.

How Does Laser Hair Removal Work? 

Lasers designed for permanent hair reduction emit wavelengths of light that are absorbed by the pigment in the hair (melanin). If the surrounding skin is lighter than the color of the hair, the energy of the laser is concentrated in the hair shaft, effectively destroying it without affecting the skin or the follicle. Since lasers target pigment, treatments are most effective on coarse hair because it has a lot of pigment and can absorb a lot of heat. Fine hair cannot absorb much heat.

The ability of the laser device to produce a very narrow bandwidth on a consistent basis is the key to a safe efficient treatment. While the laser emits a beam that only heats the hair shaft, heat is transmitted from the hair shaft to the surrounding tissue for several milliseconds after the laser pulse. Several lasers possess cooling attachments which cool the surrounding skin to fully absorb any heat transmitted from the destroyed hair shafts.

Intense Pulse Light (IPL) machines are not lasers. These machines use a highly concentrated beam of traditional incoherent light, often in conjunction with a cream or gel, to burn the hair shaft. IPLs produce a wide bandwidth of light that can heat up all of the surrounding tissue, making it less effective in disabling hair and putting the patient at a higher risk for burns, especially on darker skin.

How Many Laser Treatments will I Need? How Far Apart are They Scheduled?

Most patients need at least 6-8 effective treatments spaced 8-12 weeks apart. Because hair grows in cycles, several sessions are necessary in order to affect all hair on any given area. Due to length of hair growth cycles, treatments are usually needed once every 8-12 weeks. Hair cycle length varies depending on body part. Face usually requires more frequent treatments (about 8 weeks apart) whereas legs and back need less frequent treatments (closer to 12 weeks apart).

Shedding of all treated hair should be expected within 3 weeks of each treatment. The hair that doesn’t shed and is growing as usual after 3 weeks has likely been either missed or not affected due to inappropriate settings. All 6-8 treatments should be good effective treatments in order to achieve good results.

Is Laser Hair Removal Permanent?

Laser hair removal lasers have been in use since 1997 and approved for “permanent reduction.” They disable hair permanently as long as the right type of hair is treated with an appropriate type of laser at effective settings.

However, it is called a “reduction” because, no matter what some clinics may claim, hair removal lasers cannot and do not remove 100% of the hair in an area. With proper treatments, laser can remove the majority of the coarse hair on a body area, but they cannot remove finer hair. In order to achieve 100% clearance of hair in any one area, most people need to follow up laser treatments with electrolysis treatments to remove any remaining finer hairs.

Any hair that grows in after the 12-month period is new hair that the body can develop due to numerous factors such as age, diet, hormonal changes, and medical conditions such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).

Is Laser Hair Removal Painful?

In one pulse, laser removes all the hair on a patch of skin the size of a nickel or a quarter. Generally, laser hair removal is not much more painful than waxing, though the sensation is different. With each pulse, the feeling resembles a rubber band snapping against the skin for a quick second. Pain is only felt while laser is hitting the skin and doesn’t last. Most people do not require an anesthetic cream, though one can be prescribed to more sensitive patients.

Using anesthetic creams is safest on small areas. It’s also important to obtain a cream that is properly compounded. Using an inappropriately compounded numbing cream on large areas can result in adverse side effects or even death. Patients should consult with their doctor.

Are They any Laser Hair Removal Risks or Side Effects?

Some people may experience the following potential temporary side effects:

  • Itching
  • Redness for up to 3 days
  • Swelling around mouth of follicle for up to 3 days
  • Tingling or feeling of numbness

The following rare side effects are indicative of inappropriate laser type and/or settings:

  • Crusting/scab formation
  • Bruising
  • Purpura (purple coloring of the skin)
  • Temporary pigment change (hypopigmentation or hyperpigmentation)