You may be eager to find out if laser hair removal will work on you, especially with modern technological advances that are available these days. We understand the excitement! Laser hair removal can be a wonderful investment for people who are really bothered by their body hair.
However, before we detail the ‘ins and outs’ of whether it will work on you, we need to preface this article with a cautionary word:
The best way to find out if you are a good candidate for laser hair removal is to start with a professional consultation.
A professional is trained to assess your skin and hair, and should get to know more about you, first. This is important, since not all hair grows for the same reasons. Each person’s body can be unique. And, those variables can affect the success of your laser hair removal treatments.
Also, as we’ll explain below, not everyone is great at determining their skin tone or how much melanin there can be in the skin (since it’s not always visible). It’s also hard to determine the depth of hair follicles.
Hair removal providers, such as our beauticians and our doctor, do this all the time. They are good at recognizing when a treatment path will work well on a patient. Or, they can suggest an alternative.
In a blog post like this one, we can offer general information about the things that professionals look for when assessing patients for laser hair removal. We hope that these points help you become a more informed consumer.
Laser hair removal requires the analysis of body hair itself
Scientifically, there are two types of hair we grow on our bodies. These include:
- Vellus hair (this is sometimes called ‘peach fuzz’ and forms on us as babies)
- Terminal hair (this is the dark hair we get on our bodies starting in puberty)
Terminal hair is what we target when performing permanent hair epilation. Men generally get more terminal hair, as a response to androgen hormones, than women do. Though, women still get terminal hair, including pubic hair, in almost all the same places as men.
Terminal hair differs in the following ways:
Terminal hair can be different on everyone, and on different parts of our bodies. But, the above factors can determine how well you’ll respond to hair removal treatments.
The activity of individual hair follicles determines how many hair removal sessions you’ll need
When considering laser hair removal, know that individual hairs pass through the following growth stages:
- Anagen phase – this is when hair is actively growing and attached to the root, which ‘feeds’ hair. This can last up to 7 years on the scalp. But, it is not known why this phase stops and starts again. In areas where you have short hairs, like the eyebrows, this phase is much quicker, lasting only a few months. Though, ultimately, this is controlled by genetics.
- Catagen phase – this is when the follicle shrinks, and the hair itself begins to detach from the root. It forms what is known as a “club hair.” Club hairs are loose, and fall out more easily (though they don’t always). This phase can last 2 to 3 weeks.
- Telogen phase – this is when the hair follicle ‘rests,’ before beginning a new anagen phase. Then, it starts forming new hair cells from the root. If any club hair is left in the follicle (from the catagen phase), it is ‘pushed out’ by the newer cells. This stage can last a few months. Technically the falling out period of the club hair makes for a fourth phase, called exogen.
Here’s the important take away: not all hair follicles on our bodies are in the same phase, at the same time. In other words, hair growth on our bodies is not simultaneous.
The best time to target hair follicles for any kind of permanent hair removal is during the anagen phase. This is because your hair is still attached at the root, which is what we want to destroy. This attachment is what allows the light energy to reach the root, kind of like a plugged-in ‘cable.’
Further, this is why multiple hair removal treatments are needed. Some hair grows back after treatments, while others grow a little, then fall out. We have to wait between hair cycles before starting a new treatment. This wait period must be long enough for leftover follicles to enter the anagen phase. This can take 4 to 8 weeks, which is why appointments are usually scheduled that far apart.
This is also why you should not pull out hair when it grows back after treatments. Doing this can affect the hair follicle cycle, which we want to remain intact. You should simply let them fall out naturally.
Finally, for the record, you should be aware that no one really knows what stage each of your hair follicles is at. We simply know that hair grows in cycles. And, we can approximate the length of time those cycles take. So, by logic and experience, we know that repeat treatments eventually target the majority of hairs, in due time.
Skin tone helps us decide the wavelength to use for laser hair removal
Lastly, when analyzing patients for hair removal treatments, we look at skin tone, and learn about their genetics. As explained here, skin tone with more melanin (i.e. colour, known as pigment), is more prone to absorbing light-based heat from lasers. This makes it harder to target the hairs only, while leaving the skin unaffected.
But, sometimes someone can look like they have light-toned skin, when in fact, due to their genetics, they can have more melanin ‘hiding’ in their body than they know of. We have to be careful to use special settings in these cases, for safety reasons. This is why we ask about your ethnicity before doing any treatments on you.
Many skincare treatment providers categorize skin tones into melanin levels. This is usually done with a measurement tool called the Fitzpatrick scale.
According to this scale, skin tones usually fall within the following shades:
- Type I – this palest skin type is common among Europeans who always burn in the sun, and never seem to tan (they often have freckles, too).
- Type II – this pale skin type is also common among those of European descent. They burn easily and don’t tan very much, even if they can get some colour from sun exposure.
- Type III – this light skin type is common in Asian and South Asian people. They can get burns, but can also tan.
- Type IV – this skin type is found among South Asians who don’t often burn, even though they can. They tan easily.
- Type V – this noticeably dark skin tone can be common among those of mixed, partially African heritage. They rarely burn, and get dark tans.
- Type VI – this is the darkest skin tone. It’s found in African skin, and does not burn.
However, you’ll notice that with some people, deciding if they are a Type 1 or 2, or a Type 5 or 6, and so on, can present a ‘grey area.’ For that reason, it’s best to see a treatment provider to know where you likely fall in any categorization.
The good news: most people are eligible for laser hair removal!
As you can see above, laser hair removal candidacy can get complicated. That said, really good providers, using the most up-to-date technologies, are able to perform this technique on almost any skin tone and hair type (except for a few extreme cases, explained here).
The question is usually a matter of how long it will take to see results, and how long those results can last for. That is, when safety is also taken into account – and that is a no brainer.
By using the right tools for the job (which can involve more than one laser), many people – whether they have dark or light skin and hair – can benefit from permanent hair reduction of some sort.