Aug 14, 2023

Hair today, gone tomorrow: Laser treatment provides long

Laser hair removal can be a cost-effective solution in the long term, but it definitely saves time by reducing the need to shave


Although laser hair removal technology has been around for a very long time, it always surprises Carrie Yeo how little people actually know about it.

According to the owner of Light Touch Laser Inc. in Kentville, N.S., there are a lot of misconceptions about the practice.

"With 20 years of business and all of my advertising, I'm still surrounded by people who don't understand how laser is relevant to them," she said.

Laser hair removal is a cosmetic procedure that utilizes a concentrated beam of light to remove unwanted hair from the body. The laser emits a specific wavelength of light that is absorbed by the pigment — melanin — present in the hair follicle. The light energy is converted to heat, which damages the hair follicle, preventing it from growing hair in the future.

DermaEnvy Skincare has 11 clinics across Canada, with 10 located in Atlantic Canada and one in Waterloo, Ont., and provides medical aesthetic services in an inclusive and approachable clinic environment.

The science behind laser hair removal is photothermolysis. Different structures in the body absorb light at different wavelengths, explained Alicia Apesteguy, DermaEnvy Skincare's director of operations. With laser hair removal, the melanin in the hair follicle absorbs the light energy emitted by the laser, while the surrounding skin tissue is left unharmed.

To achieve the best results, the laser must target the hair during the active growth phase, which is when the hair is still connected to the follicle and the melanin concentration is at its highest, noted Apesteguy. Multiple treatment sessions are required to ensure that all hair follicles are targeted during their active growth phase.

Typically, patients can expect to see a 10 to 25 per cent reduction in hair growth after each treatment session, said Apesteguy.

"Results may vary, depending on individual factors, and some patients may require more sessions than others to achieve the desired level of hair reduction," she added.

For example, laser hair removal is not effective on hair that has no pigment, such as white, gray or blonde hair, said Apesteguy. Additionally, individuals with darker skin tones may require specialized lasers and techniques to avoid damage to the surrounding skin.

After completing a series of laser treatments, most patients will see a long-term reduction in hair growth, according to Apesteguy. While the results are not necessarily permanent, the reduction in hair growth can last for several years.

The word reduction is key, said Julia Manstan, owner of Pimp my Nails Plus salon in Labrador City, N.L. She has had the business for just over five years but has been in the beauty industry for 12 years.

Manstan said it's important to refer to the treatments as laser hair reduction, not laser hair removal, because the laser targets hair follicles in one growth phase (there are four), so you’ll never have a session that removes all of your hair.

"Removal insinuates that you’re removing all of the hair to never return, but you’re not," explained Manstan, noting that hormonal changes can cause new hair follicles to be produced over time.

Removal just sounds better from a marketing perspective, she emphasized.

"Yes, you will have a long-term reduction of hair, but we don't guarantee a 100 per cent permanent removal, as lovely as that sounds."

Some clients will have upwards of 90 per cent reduction that lasts for years and years, said Manstan, but most will need to come back for touch-ups throughout the years.

When comparing laser hair removal to shaving, the main difference for Apesteguy is that laser hair removal targets the hair follicle itself, while shaving only removes the hair above the surface of the skin. Shaving must be done regularly, often every few days, while laser hair removal can provide a longer-term solution for hair reduction.

There are several benefits of having laser treatments over shaving, according to Apesteguy, like the reduction of ingrown hairs — when the hair grows back into the skin instead of out of it. Besides, shaving can be time-consuming and may result in cuts or nicks, while laser hair removal is a relatively quick procedure that is generally well-tolerated by patients.

Shaving may seem like a quick and convenient solution, but it can be quite costly over a person's lifetime. Razors, shaving cream and other associated products can add up, whereas laser hair removal, while initially more expensive, can be a cost-effective long-term solution for hair removal that typically is more affordable than the lifetime cost of shaving, not to mention the time saved.

Manstan did a scientific experiment and had a laser treatment done on one of her legs. On the leg with no treatments and which she still shaves, she said the hair grows back within a few days. But, for the leg that had three sessions of laser (last session was six months ago), she might only need to shave that one once a month and the hair that grows back is thin and sparse, so she never gets that two-day prickly feeling.

"Laser is a great investment with lasting results, perfect for someone who doesn't want the regular maintenance of shaving," said Manstan. "I will take my 12 thin hairs on my leg and shaving that once a month over shaving every three days every time."

The popularity of laser treatments has been consistent for the time it's been available. Apesteguy said the most popular treatments tend to be the areas that are the most difficult to maintain such as the Brazilian hair removal, a popular choice for women to remove hair in the bikini area or the underarms, legs and upper lip. Men also come in, she noted, for hair removal, particularly in the back area.

Timing is important for treatments, according to Apesteguy. Although clients may want to be free of unwanted hair and enjoy smooth skin in the summer, treatments cannot be done on tanned skin as the laser can cause damage to the skin and may not be as effective in removing hair. This makes fall and winter the best time to get started on laser hair removal, she said.

Before having laser treatments, there are a few things to consider.

First, said Manstan, is age, as there might be different limits at different clinics. Most places won't treat anyone under 18 as the hormonal changes that occur during puberty will just cause the hair to regrow. Sometimes, however, it is okay to treat a teenaged client where hair growth or ingrown hairs are an issue and the risk of regrowth is fully explained, she explained.

Some may find the procedure painful, said Apesteguy, but numbing creams are available. Much of this depends on where you are in your treatment schedule and what type of laser the clinic is using, added Manstan. Most clinics will let you get a free test patch done so you can feel it before you commit to a series of sessions, she said.

Avoid any waxing or plucking of the hair for at least four weeks before the appointment, as this can affect the hair follicle and make the laser treatment less effective. Also avoid using lotions or other skincare products in the treatment area on the day of the appointment, as these can interfere with the laser's ability to penetrate the skin. Shave the treatment area 24 hours before the appointment, but not immediately before to avoid any discomfort, advised Apesteguy.

After the treatment, it's important to avoid sweating or engaging in any strenuous exercise for at least 24 to 48 hours to allow the skin to heal properly, recommended Apesteguy. Clients may also experience some skin irritation after the treatment and may use a vinegar compress or aloe vera to soothe the skin and reduce any discomfort.

As with any medical or aesthetic treatment, there are always risks involved that clinicians work hard to avoid through consultations, education and pre and post treatment care, said Aposteguy.

Some of the most common side effects include redness, swelling, and mild skin irritation in the treatment area. These side effects are usually temporary and subside within a few hours to a few days after treatment.

In some cases, more serious side effects can occur, such as burns, blisters or changes in skin pigmentation. These side effects are relatively rare and are more likely to occur if the treatment is performed by an inexperienced or untrained provider, or if the client fails to follow proper pre- and post-treatment care instructions, said Aposteguy.

"Laser hair removal is not suitable for everyone, and there are some individuals who may be at higher risk of complications or side effects," explained Aposteguy, noting that people with certain medical conditions or skin types may not be good candidates for laser hair removal.

This is why it is essential for clients to have a consultation prior to treatment. Here, disclose any medical conditions, medications or other factors that may affect the safety or effectiveness of the treatment, said Aposteguy.

Treatments can go wrong for multiple reasons, added Manstan, especially when clients don't divulge information regarding medications they are taking. Many medications cause the skin to be photosensitive and may result in adverse reactions.

Yeo said it is very important that, during this consultation, clients get their questions answered, feel confident about the process, and understand what it takes to get them the outcomes they are looking for.

A reputable place will have either a medical esthetician or a nurse or doctor working there and a machine that is Health Canada-approved, with the proper warning signage that they are using a laser medical device, explained Manstan.

Laser companies will try to sell their devices to literally anybody. In unregulated provinces like Newfoundland and Labrador, it is easy for anybody to obtain a laser with as little as an online training or a two-day crash course, she warned. The only thing preventing anyone from getting a laser is the ability to obtain insurance, she said.

Ask questions when you go, urged Manstan. Ask the clinician for their credentials, where they went to school or where their supervisor went. The clinician should ask about changes to medication and, if they don't or if they are letting you tan between treatments, Manstan recommended finding another clinic.

It is always important to keep clear communication with the service provider, she advised.

The biggest takeaways, said Manstan, are to ask lots of questions during your consultation — specifically, if the device Health Canada-approved and what type of certification the clinician holds, to always be open with your technician about any changes to medications or your general health throughout your procedure and to avoid tanning.

If you follow that advice, you’re most likely to be set up for a good treatment and a great result, said Manstan.

Then, according to Yeo, the only question will be why didn't I do this sooner?