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Soprano Laser Hair Removal Review at Bupa Centre West End

Soprano by Alma Lasers

Soprano by Alma Lasers

This is an update from a previous post on my laser hair removal journey. I never fully appreciated how long the treatment period would last for; I recall what Dr Morar from the Lister Hospital told me when I sought his advice on whether laser hair removal is safe and effective for darker skins, he told me yes it’s very effective but be aware that it’s a really long process! To give you an idea, I started in March 2012 and it’s now July 2013 and I’m only now nearing the end.

The first question most people want to know including me (at the start and even nine treatments later!) is how many treatments are required before you’re done? The average number of treatments that someone requires to achieve a satisfactory level of permanent hair reduction is six to eight, however this is just an average and it really does vary amongst individuals. I sometimes read websites where they say that on your initial consultation, the beautician can give you an idea of how many treatments you’ll need. The reason I choose Bupa was that the nurse, Helen that I did the first few treatments with was very honest, and told me that she couldn’t give me the exact number of treatments I’d require, but based on her years of experience dealing with people of a similar ethnic background/skin tone (because that can vary widely) she approximated I’d need a minimum of eight and perhaps more thereafter.  She did say one woman only needed four, but that was very unusual. So, my first piece of advice is to be wary of anyone that tells you to expect to be done after 6 to 8 treatments. If you’re lucky enough to have very pale skin, my dark hair and no underlying hormonal issue then it’s highly likely you may need fewer than the average number of treatments . There are no guarantees, so the question ‘how many treatments’ is comparable to asking ‘how long do you think your colleague will be on the phone for’ or ‘how long is a piece of string’ – there’s no straight answer – got it, good 🙂

Now, I’ll try to answer most of the questions people contemplate before embarking on laser hair removal:


What is laser hair removal in simple terms? In this procedure, laser light is absorbed by melanin in the hair shaft damaging the follicular epithelium (this is the reason why the treatment is most successful for people with dark hair and non-responsive for those with red or white hair; for those with such lighter hair you may notice hair loss but this is most likely to be temporary – this is because these hair colours contain little or no melanin, there is less chromophore for the laser to target, and the response is less). After treatment, you’ll notice that re-growing hairs appear thinner and lighter than previously (which is what I noticed after the very first treatment, re-growing hairs were a muted black). There are a number of different laser machines that work for different skin tones, I read that Nd:YAG lasers are best suited to those with darker skin tones, but the Soprano laser can work for all skin tones and is touted to be less uncomfortable than the older lasers where numbing creams are used.

Hair grows in three cycles, anagen (active growth phase – laser hair removal only affects this stage), catagen (regression phase) and telogen (resting phase). At any one time, only a certain percentage will be in the anagen phase (approximately varies from 10 to 25%), which is the reason why you need multiple treatments over 6 weeks for the first few treatments followed by 8 weeks for those remaining.

Preparing for Treatment:

You should not wax or pluck your hair for at least six weeks prior to the laser treatment, this is because the hair shaft is the chromophore and this needs to be present in the hair follicle at the time of treatment.  Shaving and depilatory creams are acceptable methods of removing hair whilst undergoing treatment.

It is important to shave before the treatment as if the external hair shaft is present; the laser will burn it, which will burn your skin. The nurse told me to prepare by either shaving the night before or morning of the day of treatment; if you get a rash after shaving then opt for the night before, but I shave in the morning. Keep the area clean and don’t use any creams or lotions, and no deodorant if having your underarms lasered. If you’re on any medications/supplements, disclose this prior to starting and don’t get a tan (reason: having a tan prior to treatment increases your risk of hyper-pigmentation and scarring). I was on doxycycline for a few weeks over a year ago when I was ill and had problems breathing (turned out to be stress-related and I didn’t have to take it), the specialist told me he had no issue with me being on medication whilst having treatment as he saw no contradiction (Dr Mallipeddi is one of the leading laser surgeons in the country), but said that clinics will warn against this as they think there’s a theoretical risk, but in reality it’s nonsense. The clinic will ask that you wait about 7 to 10 days after stopping antibiotics.

What to expect:

You’ll need to have an initial consultation which was free for me to discuss expectations and crucially have a test patch on a small area of the skin to be treated, then you must wait a couple of days just to ensure there’s no reaction. At the start of each treatment you’ll be asked to sign a form consenting to treatment as it’s classified as cosmetic.

I know what you’re now really thinking, does it hurt? The first few treatments were uncomfortable, like someone trying to prick me with a pin, but not unbearable (and I have a low pain-threshold, so you’ll be fine). My underarms and bottom legs have the coarsest hair which meant it being more uncomfortable but the results have been really good. The first couple of treatments are spaced six weeks apart, then after treatment four and above its eight weeks. After the eighth treatment on my legs, the nurse told me to wait 10 weeks and come and see her without shaving them. The bottom legs she said just need one more treatment, but the thighs have finer hairs and need a few more before I’m finished.

There is a high risk of eye damage with laser as the retina has a very high concentration of melanin, for this reason both you and the operator must wear goggles. Treatment time varies, I have long legs and it takes about an hour and a half to treat full legs followed by a couple of minutes for the underarms.

Once complete, don’t shower or bath until the next morning and don’t use really hot water as the skin will be sensitive and more prone to irritation. I use Dove pure and gentle soap for several days and then Sterex Aloe Vera gel (bought in the clinic) as an aid to cool the area and a natural antiseptic. Whilst my skin was getting used to being lasered, I did feel a little itchy for a few days but nothing unbearable.

Perifollicular swelling and redness are desired clinical endpoints, expect your skin to look red after treatment and this usually subsides within a few hours but can last for a few days for some. If there are signs of epidermal damage then you may need an antibiotic ointment or just go back to the clinic for their advice. I panicked a little when I had a rash but I called the nurse and she assured me that it’s fine and to just keep the area clean and cool down with the aloe vera gel.

Side effects:

These are possible but are minimised if you go to a reputable clinic and Dr Morar advised it’s best to have a medical professional rather than beautician to conduct treatments, to reduce the risk. I did have a rash immediately after my fourth treatment but it was just a temporary reaction to the laser, it disappeared after two days. Inevitably, you’ll be undergoing treatments during the summer, just make sure not to immediately expose the treated area to the sun as your skin will be more sensitive and burn easily, so cover up with trousers or maxi dress (do not sunbathe, as this increases your risk of hypo- or hyper-pigmentation), use sun protection.

The reason why darker skins require more treatments is that to get the best results, treatment needs to be performed at the highest possible fluence the skin can tolerate (higher percentage hair loss at higher fluences). However, caution must be taken to minimise the side effect of hypo- or hyper-pigmentation which occurs when the skin reaches its own threshold fluence and is more of an issue for darker skins (remember that the laser targets the melanin in the hair but this is also present in the skin more so for those of darker skin tones). For this reason, it’s best to start off with lower fluences and work it up. I’m happy with this approach because I was put off by some of the potential side-effects prior to embarking on treatment, however this means more treatments (time and money) to finish.

Does it work in the long-term?

The Holy Grail question and only answerable after an extended period (six months plus) after my final treatment (I’ll have to get back to you on that). There’s a great website, http://www.realself.com, where real doctors answer people’s questions on various different treatments, and they all touted it to definitely work but cautioned only with patients with dark hairs (with the best results being seen with those of lighter skin tones and coarser type hairs).

Actively growing hairs that are successfully treated shouldn’t grow back; once the hair follicle is damaged it cannot grow hair. However, there will inevitably be hair follicles that were not in the active growth phase during the course of the treatment. It’s not unusual to expect to have ‘touch-up’ treatments once in a while due to hormonal changes (which affects hair growth). I understand that those with the underlying hormonal condition PCOS will need to have treatments pretty regularly; thankfully I don’t have this issue.

My advice is to be prepared to commit to this for the long-term and regularly do your treatments every six to eight weeks (or less depending on different areas of the body). Yes, there is a bit of discomfort initially but after the first couple of treatments this becomes less of an issue. I noticed a small difference after the first treatment, but it was only after treatment four that I was really impressed, so bear that in mind when setting your expectations.

I’m a little impatient and have to keep stopping myself asking Hazel (the nurse), ‘am I nearly done yet’? It’s starting to become an addiction, would love to get the bikini area done next –ouch! 😉 Wow, that must be my longest blog post; hopefully this is informative (a culmination of both my experience and research on the area).