Editorial note: this post was updated on June 16, 2020.
Laser hair removal has come a long way since the first laser for hair removal received FDA clearance in the mid 1990’s. Older generation lasers were slow, very painful and worked only on individuals with very dark hair and very light skin. Today, lasers can work on all skin colours and most hair colours. Some lasers are even safe for treating dark skin. Lasers for hair removal can be performed on any (yes, any) area of the body (except, perhaps the eyebrows).
But, what is the best laser for hair removal?
You are right to ask this question. That’s because many providers out there may be using outdated technology. Lasers improve from year to year, and as they do, treatments become safer, faster and more effective than before.
These days, there are a few lasers that are approved by Health Canada for use on certain skin types. We would say this approval is a good start for being on a list about ‘the best laser for hair removal,’ no doubt. But they each have their own strengths and weaknesses.
We’ll summarize them below.
The Ruby laser
The Ruby is the ‘original’ hair removal laser. Its deep red color at the 694nm wavelength is very well absorbed by the melanin pigment in hair. This makes it an excellent choice for fine and light hair.
However, because melanin is present in the skin as well the hair shaft, the Ruby laser cannot be used on patients with skin that is not very light, including tanned skin.
Because of this limitation, along with its slow repetition rate, and relatively small spot size, Ruby lasers have become less popular for laser hair removal in recent years.
The Alexandrite laser
The Alexandrite laser also produces a reddish light that can be absorbed by melanin in hair.
With its large spot size (up to 18mm) and high repetition rate, it is the fastest hair removal laser with regards to pulse speed. It is suitable for rapid treatment of large body areas. For example, an entire back can be treated in less than 30 minutes.
The Alexandrite works great on light to olive complexions, but not so much on darker skin types.
The most popular option for an Alexandrite laser today would be in the Candela™ GentleMax Pro™. The machine actually includes two lasers in one: the Alexandrite and the ND:yag, which we’ll explain below.
The Nd:YAG (long pulse) laser
The ND:Yag laser is popular because it can be used on all skin types, including tanned skin.
It also uses large spot sizes, with fast repetition rates, to allow large areas to be treated quickly.
The disadvantage with this option is that it doesn’t work well on fine and light hairs. However, other hair removal lasers can fill in this gap.
The Diode Laser
This option consists of a high powered, laser diode emitting infrared (invisible) light, at around the ~800-808nm wavelength. This is considered a long wavelength. Its length allows for deep penetration into the skin, bypassing the upper layers. This makes it safer for darker skin types, but less effective for lighter and finer hair.
Traditionally, this laser comes with a smaller spot size, which invariably means a longer time to complete a treatment session. So, clinics may charge more for this type of treatment. A longer session may also create more patient discomfort, and the need for topical numbing.
Popular Diode lasers used today include the LightSheer and Soprano XL brand models.
The IPL (Intense Pulsed Light)
Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) devices are not actually lasers, because they emit non-coherent light of many different wavelengths.
In our experience, we have found that IPL hair removal can be more painful than the Alexandrite or Nd:Yag laser. Since IPL disperses several, short wavelengths of light, instead of being targeted, it can also result in more pigmentation as a side effect.
IPL hair removal also requires many more sessions to achieve desired results.
In our opinion, it is simply not worth the trouble, especially when there are very effective alternatives out there.
SoftLight hair reduction
Lasers can remove terminus (soft, light and fuzzy) hair on your body for about 12 weeks at a time. This treatment is often advertised as being performed with a SoftLight branded laser. However, the same effects can be achieved with other tools. At our clinic, we use the enlighten® (1064 wavelength) for this.
After laser hair removal on terminus hair, the remaining hair that grows back will be softer and thinner. The SoftLight treatment for these hairs is a good option for long-term maintenance, when total removal is not possible.
What about at-home laser hair removal machines and epilators?
In short, there is no comparison when it comes to at-home hair removal, versus what is offered at medically-run clinics.
If DIY hair removal systems were truly as effective as what we can do in a professional setting, people would probably be burning themselves or causing other serious damage to their bodies.
While we can’t testify to how effective these gadgets are, we can tell you that for anyone to operate our laser equipment, several hours of safety training must be had first. Our type of equipment is also not sold on the direct-to-consumer market, and costs several thousands of dollars.
Some people claim these at-home laser hair removal gadgets do work. They also say that since they are cheap, they are worthwhile. We’d say that we prefer the road of ‘get it done right, the first time.’
So, what is the best hair removal laser?
At our laser clinic, we use the Candela™ GentleMax Pro™. It is certainly considered a ‘gold standard’ in the industry today, since it allows us to work on many skin types and hairs. We also frequently update our technologies, to stay up to date with the latest advancements.
However, most laser and skin experts will tell you that the type or brand of laser is not the only consideration here (though it is certainly important). That’s because multiple elements contribute to the effectiveness and safety of laser hair removal. These can be:
- The brand of lasers.
- The types of lasers (e.g. Alexandrite, Nd:Yag, Diode, Ruby or the non-laser IPL).
- Skin tone.
- Hair type.
- Hair density.
- Hair growth cause (e.g. hormonal, genetic, etc.).
- Depth of penetration, and width of the laser pulses.*
- Temperature length period and cooling devices.**
- Practitioner experience.
In truth, while the GentleMax Pro™ is most certainly considered a top-grade solution for hair reduction, the results you get from it, or any other laser, will depend a lot on you, and the knowledge of the clinic doing treatments on you.
Some may claim that a Diode laser is better for darker skin types, or Middle Eastern skin, than the Nd:Yag. However, the difference is negligible. The Diode can have more side effects, and be more painful during treatment. This is why we stick to the Nd:Yag (1064 wavelength) for those cases.
*Spot size: As spot size increases, a lower percentage of the delivered light energy scatters outside of the treatment area. This not only makes the sessions faster, it increases the depth of penetration, allowing for a lower energy setting, which is safer.
**Cooling system: an efficient cooling system can reduce the need for icing the skin during treatment. This, in turn, can result in fewer side effects.
The best laser for hair removal depends on the person it is being used on
As we’ve seen above, there are several lasers for hair removal available on the market today. No one laser will be ideal for every individual. Depending on your skin color and hair color, some lasers will be more effective than others. And sometimes, multiple lasers will need to be used, for different areas of your body.
As a start, we would advise you to choose a quality clinic, and one with multiple lasers to be able to treat a variety of conditions.
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