How does laser hair removal work?
09 Feb 2012
Laser hair removal may seem like magic, but there's science behind it: science that makes it both effective and safe. It's commonly confused with another light-based technique, but is generally held to be a superior method.
The principle behind laser hair removal is extremely simple: it uses the power of a laser, but in a focused way that means the "damage" caused is productive. Ultimately laser hair removal involves using the thermal energy in a laser on the base of a hair follicle. This not only damages the follicle enough that the hair will naturally fall out within a few days, but makes it much more difficult for the hair to grow back, making it a long-lasting solution.
What makes laser hair removal so clever is that it turns a problem into a solution. Dark and noticeable hairs get their colour from a pigment called melanin. Fortunately this very same melanin acts as a super-efficient pathway to carry the laser beam directly along the length of the hair to the base. That means it can be carried out with the minimum power necessary.
The laser hair removal available in clinics is sometimes confused with an alternative treatment known as intense pulsed light, which is often the basis of supposed home treatments using consumer devices. The big difference is that laser treatment can be specifically customized to the particular person's hair colour and skin type, meaning the laser operates at exactly the right wavelength to tackle the hair.
In contrast, intense pulsed light uses a scattergun approach, firing out pulses at all manner of wavelengths. Not only will many of these pulses of energy be completely wasted, but they'll pointlessly heat up the skin. This can make effective treatment longer and more uncomfortable. Intense pulsed light also only works well on a small area of skin, whereas laser hair removal is suitable for everything from a single toe to an entire back or legs.