Archive for laser hair removal
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.
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).
I started having laser hair removal treatments back in March 2012. I deliberately held off on blogging about this until I had undertaken a number of treatments, in order to give you a well-informed review on the subject of laser hair removal.
Laser hair removal is classified as a cosmetic procedure. Ask me whether I’d have breast enlargement and I’d firmly say without hesitation a resounding ‘No’. I think that comes with being older and less hung up on ‘body issues’ – the thought of implanting something unnatural in my body doesn’t appeal to me. Even for something like laser hair removal, it took me months of research to finally pluck up the courage to go ahead.
Anyone with dark hair understands that hair removal can be a frequent chore. The thought of not having to do it that often appealed to me. The first thing I did was go to a swanky salon called EF Medispa on Kensington Church Street for a free consultation. The lady I saw was very glamorous (although she looked like she had some work done to her face), she was very charming, I had to fill a form which also requires you to inform them of any medications that have been taken. I told this lady that I had taken a couple of weeks course of doxycycline for my chest back in September 2012 (I saw her in November). I was surprised when she told me that I’d have to wait six months before I could start the treatments. I was rather perplexed, six months? that can’t be right surely? I did a bit of research and came across a website called realself.com where real doctors give advice on various treatments, I posted a question and luckily a kind doctor told me that the half-life of doxycycline was only 18-22 hours and therefore I should wait 7-10 days before starting the process of laser hair removal.
Given the side-effects, the lengthy process and cost, I decided it was prudent for my peace of mind to engage the opinion of a dermatologist. I went to Cromwell Hospital and saw Dr Morar. He advised me that the lady at EF Medispa was totally incorrect and that it’s best that I get treatment from a medical professional rather than a beautican, and that laser treatments can be effective but to note that it’s a long process (I never appreciated fully his comment until now).
Off I embarked on a consultation with the Bupa Centre West End (located within a short stroll of Topshop on Oxford Street). I met a nurse called Helen. I immediately felt relaxed with her, she was a pretty petite blonde lady (all natural) and rather than tell me that I won’t feel anything (like the lady at EF Medispa told me), she did say the first couple of treatments will most likely be uncomfortable given my hair is very dark and thick, but it isn’t intolerable and has never had a patient who couldn’t tolerate the treatment. I appreciated her honesty and I filled in a form and she did a patch test. I waited a week to see if there was a reaction, which there wasn’t and off I started.
The first treatment I decided to have full legs done, the laser did feel uncomfortable but I gritted my teeth and it took about an hour and a half. I went back to work as normal and was told not to shower until the next morning, and bought Sterex Aloe Vera gel to use after showering on my legs – a natural anti-septic and helps to cool the area. I used the gel for a week, and then reverted back to my normal E45 moisturiser. You can’t pluck or wax for the duration of treatments but you can shave in between. The treated hair that was effectively targeted by the laser then falls off on its own in about 1 to 3 weeks.
Subsequent treatments are done every 6 weeks (extended up to 8 for when you get past 4/5 treatments). The ideal candidate (the one that will get the best results) would be someone with my dark hair colouring and thickness combined with white skin. Lighter hairs and darker skins will need multiple treatments, I was told to have 8. I’m now on treatment 7 for my legs.
After the second legs treatment, I decided to have my underarms done (I had to have a patch test on my underarm before commencing treatments). Whoa! I nearly jumped when she did the first treatment, hair is coarser there (same for the bikini area). However, she did stop and then start again when the area got a little hot, it only takes 1 minute per underarm – now I’m on treatment 5 I don’t feel it anymore. As the treatment progresses, there are less active hair follicles to target and therefore you feel it less.
I haven’t yet finished my treatments, but it has been incredible, since treatment 5, I have only very sparse fine hairs that are a muted black colour, you can hardly see them. In fact, I haven’t needed to shave in between treatments, I only shave on the day or the day before the treatment.
Pain tolerance is subjective, so don’t be put off by my comments, I would say its completely bearable, and the more you progress, the less you’ll feel it. Expect some redness and itchiness, this subsides within a few days.
I had Helen do my first couple of treatments, and now I have a nurse called Hazel, she’s absolutely lovely. I’m soo glad that I chose the Bupa Centre West End.
My advice would be to stay committed to having the treatments every 6 to 8 weeks, and that it does take time to really see the results – even from the first treatment I saw a reduction in hair growth and the hairs that re-grew were finer and lighter in colour. It was only after treatment 4 and beyond that I could see a dramatic difference, but it can be different for other people.
For more information on the Soprano XL Laser I’ve been using http://www.painfreehairfree.co.uk
I will update my blog in a couple of months time, it’s possible that maintenance treatments of once or twice a year are needed there after, but I have no idea until I see how things progress…