Laser hair removal continues to be an extremely popular procedure. In 2012, over 883,893 laser hair removal procedures were performed in the US, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. To understand the hair removal process it is first important to understand the hair growth cycle.
Hair forms in a structure below the skin surface called a hair follicle. What we see as hair is actually the hair shaft, which is the keratinized, hardened tissue that grows from this follicle.
Everyone’s hair grows differently, depending on age, weight, metabolism, hormones, ethnicity, medications, and other factors. All hair goes through three distinct growth phases, but the amount of time spent in each stage varies for different areas of the body. Hair growth is not synchronized so each hair follicle produces hair independently of any adjacent follicles; therefore adjacent follicles may be in different phases of the hair growth cycle. The three phases of hair growth are as follows:
- Active growth phase (anagen phase), which may last up to several years. At any given time, the majority (85%) of our body hair is in this phase. During anagen, the hair has an abundance of melanin. During the anagen phase the hair follicle is nourished by a blood supply through the dermal papilla.
- Regressive phase (catagen phase), which lasts about two weeks, during which the hair stops growing but is not yet shed. About 3-4% of our body hair is in this phase at any given time. During the catagen phase the hair follicle loses its blood supply and the hair shaft loses its mooring.
- Resting phase (telogen phase), which lasts 5-6 weeks, at the end of which the hair falls out and new hair begins to form. Approximately 10-13% of our body hair is in this phase at any one time.
Intense Pulsed Light (IPL™) uses non-coherent light in a low energy manner to successfully remove unwanted hair. The IPL wavelengths range from 550nm to 1200nm, and are limited by a filter that selectively blocks and defines the lowest wavelength. The longer wavelengths are more effective in removing unwanted hair. The IPL energy is applied non-invasively to the skin, and effectively treats hair anywhere on the body. The emitted light is absorbed by the pigment (melanin) located in the hair shaft. This light energy is then converted to heat energy in the hair shaft and follicle, and damages those hair follicles in the active growth phase. The hair shaft must be present in the actively growing phase of the cycle to act as a conduit for the light energy to damage the hair follicle. It is for this reason that hair follicles in the regressive or resting phases are not affected during treatment. And, because hair growth is not synchronized, not every hair follicle in a given treatment area will be adequately affected during the treatment process.
Hair color, hair thickness, hair density, the hair growth cycle, and skin color all affect the treatment used and the subsequent response. The best results are achieved in light-skinned, dark-haired individuals. However, IPL™ produces effective and significant hair reduction in a wide range of individuals. Since all hair in a treated area is not in the anagen/growth phase, more than one IPL™ treatment is necessary to remove the hair that subsequently enters the growth phase. Usually a total of 3 to 6 treatments are necessary to achieve the desired amount of permanent hair reduction. Since IPL™ cannot be used for all skin types, individuals with darker skin colors may be treated effectively with the Nd:YAG laser instead. Using these two modalities we are able to offer effective hair reduction for all skin types and colors. Individual results may vary, and expectations can be discussed at the initial consultation.
If you would like to schedule a consult to discuss IPL™ hair removal please call our office at 414-443-0033.
Care and Treatment
- A pretreatment consultation and evaluation will be necessary to determine what type of therapy is right for each individual.
- It is absolutely necessary that the area to be treated, be protected with a sunscreen that blocks both ultraviolet A and B rays for 6 weeks prior to treatment. Individuals with a recent tan will need to avoid further sun exposure prior to treatment. Sunless tanning products should also be avoided. It is important to avoid getting tan between treatments because this precludes further treatments until the tan fades.
- Waxing, plucking and electrolysis should be avoided at least 8 weeks prior to laser treatment. Shaving and depilatory creams are allowed.
- For darker-skinned individuals, pretreatment with a bleaching cream may make the treatment safer and more effective.
- On the day of treatment, makeup and moisturizers should be avoided. The patient should shave the area to be treated the morning prior to laser treatment
IPL™ treatment will produce a mild stinging or burning sensation similar to sunburn. Mild redness and swelling of the treated area will occur, and usually lasts for 24-48 hours. Cool compresses may be applied to the skin surface as needed. The area should be cleansed twice daily with mild soap and water. A moisturizer should then be applied.
- Over the next several days, hairs may appear to grow; this is actually the damaged hair shaft being extruded from the follicle. The treated hairs will be shed over 1-2 weeks.
- A sunscreen (SPF 30) should be applied to the treated area for at least 6 weeks. Protective clothing is recommended and direct sun exposure should be avoided.