Laser Hair Removal Q & A with a Certified Laser Technician
I met laser technician Jennifer Belser online while and was really impressed by her depth of knowledge and experience so I asked her to share some of it with us. She is a NYS licensed aesthetician and certified laser technician who works for a Pulse Laser and Skincare center in NYC; a clinic whose focus is laser hair removal and laser skin rejuvenation. Even though I've been following laser hair removal since it was first offered, I found it quite eye opening and she even surprised me with some updated information dispelling what are now myths since they no longer apply.
[Just a note: I am not affiliated with the clinic where the specialist is employed, I in no way benefit from any of the answers leading you toward or away from LHR. It is just an effort to find out and share information that is constantly conflicting all over the web and by varying sources, answered by a reputable and experienced laser technician.]
In a previous article on laser hair removal I linked to a page that has a basic FAQ section on laser hair removal for those just getting familiar with the treatment, but these questions are a more in depth and answer questions I see and hear over and over again, with current and correct information from a respected professional in the field.
Q: Probably the most pressing question is, is laser hair removal permanent. Can you give us some insight? FDA says LHR can claim permanent hair *reduction*, not removal. I always describe that to people as meaning: not all hair that is treated will be permanently removed, but a large portion of it will be gone forever. Would you agree with that assessment?
A. I’d say that our claims are in line with the FDA. It is a permanent reduction in hair, not a permanent removal. Our bodies are not an exact science and results will differ from person to person. Our aging and hormones play a huge part in whether or not the hair will re-grow and where. Usually areas like the underarm or legs can stay hair-free for forever (or a long time), but areas like the lip and chin or brazilian might have slight re-growth.
Q: I've always found that wording strange, (and possibly confusing), I mean, much of the hair is permanently removed but I guess people know what they mean by reduction. What do you mean by a long time?
A: Yes, by the FDA there is specific wording of what laser can claim to do. Legally we can only say that it can reduce hair permanently, not get rid of every last one and remove it. The only FDA approved permanent hair removal is Electrolysis, and this is because it is done in a hair by hair method and the hair color does not matter. When I say a long time, I mean years...10+. Sometimes after 10+ years, you might get slight re-growth (and I do mean slight...a few stray hairs). OR alternatively, the laser leaves you with a few random hairs that just aren’t able to get picked up by the laser, but everything else is gone.
Q: What are considered good/successful results, what range of permanent reduction have you seen? I can say personally I have had great success on my legs. 99% of the hair is gone for over 5 years now. My axilla (underarms) saw a 75% reduction after 6 sessions and 2 follow ups. I am currently having the rest of my axilla treated with electrolysis.
A: Personally, I’ve seen a great variation. I have 100% clearance on my underarms, 95% clearance on my brazilian, 100% clearance on my sideburns (10+years!), and 99% clearance on my legs, for 3 years. Some clients might see similar results to you, but I’d say most people achieve over 80% clearance in all areas treated, aside from lip and chin, or a man’s back, which are the most difficult to clear.
Q: Can African American, Indian and other people with darker skin get laser hair removal? Somewhat conservatively, how dark can a person be and still be a candidate for successful laser hair removal? Can you think of celebs that just make it to being candidates and those who are probably not candidates?
A: I think that everyone of every skin color can successfully get laser hair removal. I regularly treat Fitzpatrick Skin type 6 clientele (darkest black, like the model Alek Wek) on our Candela Gentle YAG and have had no issues with skin discoloration, and have gotten great results. There is no one that is not a good candidate these days, as far as skin color is concerned. It is an unfortunate myth that darker skin tones can’t safely get laser hair removal. If done on the right machine by the right technician that is familiar with treating darker skin tones (only on a YAG) they can see wonderful results. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fitzpatrick_scale
Q: Pretty amazing. This is actually the first time I have heard that. I’m really glad to hear it. I know it’s difficult to deal with tough hair issues, or just plain annoying to shave often, and it always sucked to me that so many people wouldn’t be able to reap the benefits of LHR. Personally I have found it absolutely life-changing. I would think someone with the melanin of a fitzpatrick 5/6 should seek a very experienced technician, I imagine most technicians would not take fitzpatrick 6 clients? How would a fitz 5/6 go about finding someone who knows how to effectively and SAFELY work with a 5/6 skin tone. And out of curiosity, with a fitz 5/6, how does the laser seek out the pigment? Does it not need a fair amount of contrast?
A: The YAG laser, by the nature of its wavelength is less sensitive to pigment. This means that it doesn’t need as much contrast between the skin and the hair, and the hair is still darker. At my place of business, I am insured. However, the insurance company that insures us does not insure you for skin type 6 unless you have been working with that skin type for over a year. If you are a darker skin tone, don’t be shy - ask the practitioner if they are insured, and if they are insured for treatment for skin type 6 (I am). Ask them what percentage of their clientele are darker skinned, and how many treatments they do on a daily basis. Being in New York, I had no choice other than to learn every single skin type there is- we are a true melting pot. When you go in for your consult, ask for an experienced technician and ask them if they feel comfortable working on your skin tone. Follow your gut and make sure it’s a YAG.
Q: We always hear that LHR does not work on blondes and redheads, would you say that is true.
A: Yes, unfortunately it is true that LHR does not work for blondes or redheads. Lasers are using a wavelength of light that has a target that it is seeking. In this case it’s melanin, or pigment in the root of the hair. Blonde, grey, and some shades of red hair register as an absence of pigment to the laser, so they don’t get picked up.
Q: What do people mean practitioner makes a difference, in what way/ways?
A: Certainly the education of a practitioner makes a difference. What kind of licenses do they have, what kind of laser education did they receive? How many treatments daily do they perform, and what types of skin tones do they see on a daily basis? All of these things matter when choosing a practitioner.
Q: What’s your opinion of using laser hair removal on the face.
A: I regularly receive and give laser treatments on the face, and I have no problem with it. I think that people need to be realistic about what lasers can and cannot do. If you have a hormonal condition, like Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome, which often causes excess hair growth on the face, you are going to be the client that probably needs to get regular treatments and there may not be an end in sight. Or if you have very fine or light hair on the upper lip, that may eventually need to be treated in some other manner. But overall, the face isn’t of a concern to me vs. any other areas of the body.
Q: Is there a certain type of laser that should be used on the face? I had a very short treatment years ago with a diode on my face and it actually did stimulate hair. :(. Is that no longer an issue?
A: Well, the first thing is that when you go in for your consult, you should ask if the areas that you want to get treated are areas that have the appropriate hair color and thickness. Laser works best on dark, coarse hair. Areas like sideburns, coarse chin hair, coarse lip hair, and other random coarse hairs will see the best results. If you are trying to remove very fine hair, or the blonde vellus hairs on your face, laser is not for you. I try only to treat where there is coarse hair, but yes, regardless of laser type, if you treat over an area that doesn’t have a lot of growth and it’s treated many times, you can in some cases incite hair growth that you didn’t have before. Don’t over treat areas where the hair isn’t the right texture or color. We aren’t exactly sure why this happens, but it can also happen on the upper arms and front of the neck too.