There’s a growing trend among women who are seeking a more permanent solution to getting rid of unwanted hair. And as with all cosmetic crazes, facts can get distorted. Here are some common myths and facts about various hair removal techniques
When it comes to your skin and hair, always consult a dermatologist if you’re in doubt. Dermatologists possess the scientific, medical and real-life experience and knowledge which cannot be matched by beauticians and beauty bloggers. Hair is an obsession for most women I know. Unwanted hair on the face or body makes a woman look and feel less feminine. The smooth bald look, especially on arms and underarms, has been in vogue for decades now. Girls as young as twelve are now seeking advice on how to get rid of body hair in a safe and gentle manner. I get at least one epilation-related query on a daily basis; and I’m constantly astonished to hear the kind of nonsensical but firmly-held myths women have, which prevent them from seeking hair removal treatments.
Myth: Laser hair removal will permanently get rid of all hair in one treatment
A lot of people believe and expect that just 1 or 2 treatments of laser epilation will leave them with 100 per cent bald skin for life. This is simply not true. Modern day Diode and Alexandrite lasers are very effective but they still need 5-6 treatment sessions for full effect. Also it is not “permanent hair removal” but long term laser hair reduction at best. It makes the hair thinner, finer and lighter. It reduces the number of hair and significantly slows down the speed of hair re-growth. You will need to get maintenance treatments done every 6-18 months, depending on your hair type and rate of re-growth. If you discontinue the treatments altogether, the hair will slowly start growing back to its original thickness in 3-4 years. Anyone who promises 100 per cent hair-free skin for life is hustling you.
Fact: Laser Hair Removal does not work on gray hair
Every laser has a fixed wavelength of energy designed to attract specific tissue or target, without having any destructive effect on other tissues. Hair reduction lasers are designed to target melanin – the pigment carried in hair roots. This is why the lasers work best on dark hair. Dark hair absorbs more laser energy, leading to more efficient collapse and shrinkage of the hair roots. Modern lasers do not just target the pigment – they also cause bulk heating of the deeper skin tissue, thereby destroying hair follicles using heat. This means that modern lasers work on brown and ginger-coloured hair as well, but they are nearly useless in the elimination of grey or white hair.
Myth: Shaving and plucking will make your hair grow back thicker
Most men and women believe that shaving will make their hair grow thicker, darker and faster. If this were true, there would be no bald men in the world. The thickness of your hair is determined by your genes, ethnicity and hormones. Shaving only cuts hair at the surface. It does not have any effect on the hair root, and therefore has no bearing on the thickness, colour or rate of hair growth. You might feel this way as shaving leaves the hair with a blunt tip which feels coarse and stubbly when all of the shaved hair grows back together. One doesn’t experience the stubbly feeling with waxing, as it pulls out hair from the roots and the hair grows back at different rates.
Fact: Laser hair removal will get rid of ingrown hair
Ingrown hairs are hairs that have curled back and grown inwards into the skin. Most women believe this only happens after shaving, and only in those who have thick and coarse hair. But ingrown can happen even after waxing, and in women with finer hair as well. Creams, scrubs, loofahs and waxing cannot fix the appearance of your skin. Laser radiation is the only technique which can penetrate beneath the skin and destroy hair follicles in a precise and targeted manner. So now you know the secret behind the impossibly smooth-looking skin of your favourite celebrity.
Myth: Laser hair removal is really painful
Laser hair removal is no more painful than waxing, threading or plucking. Pain and discomfort is only felt in the first 2-3 treatments. After the initial treatments are done, your hair will be thinner and the treatment becomes virtually painless.
Fact: You should avoid getting laser hair removal done if your skin is freshly tanned or you have suffered a recent sun burn
Like I have mentioned before, laser hair removal works by targeting the pigment (melanin) in the hair follicles. After a sun burn or a deep tan, there is an outburst of excess melanin containing cells, which are highly reactive. You are at a risk of burns and scars if laser treatments are performed on freshly tanned skin. But you can still get a fake tan done in between sessions!
Myth: Black people can’t do laser hair removal
This is not true. Laser treatments show the best and fastest results in light skinned patients with thick dark hair. Black people may need more number of treatments to achieve the same results. This is because your dermatologist will choose lower laser energies in the interest of safety. But people of all skin colour, hair colour and hair textures can now be treated successfully with lasers.
Fact: Laser hair removal done at spas and salons are less expensive and they work as well
You only get as much as you pay for! Salons and spas generally use salon-grade, light-based devices which are cheaper and less effective; but are easier to train with and does not require any prior knowledge of laser physics and hair biology. This is because these treatments are performed by non-medical personnel. However, a lot of these light-based devices are neither very safe, nor are they very effective when it comes to hair reduction in people with darker skin types.
Myth: Laser hair removal is very expensive
Salon waxing is getting increasingly expensive and your hair will grow right back in a month. The beautician only invests in wax, a heating apparatus, some sheets and talc, and a little time. Considering the long lasting results, the expensive equipment used, the training and qualification of your doctor, and the money you will save on those monthly salon visits – laser hair reduction is actually the cost-effective option.
Fact: You should not get laser hair removal done if you are pregnant or nursing
Dermatological laser devices only penetrate as deep as the skin, or right down to the fat attached underneath your skin. Even so, all medical literature mentions pregnancy and nursing as a contraindication for treatment with medical laser devices. This is purely in the interest of safety, as these treatments as elective cosmetic procedures.
Myth: Laser Hair removal will give you skin cancer
This popular myth was floated by professional bloggers who are paid by beauticians and spa owners to protect their own business interests. Since these devices use laser radiation, it was alleged that these treatments can cause skin cancer. The energy used by laser devices is nothing like the radiation used in tanning booths. This is harmless, non-ionizing radiation which is designed to target only the hair follicle. In fact, certain kinds of medical laser devices are actually used to treat, shrink and eliminate skin cancer. Laser hair removal has been performed across the world since the 1990s. Dermatologists and Aesthetic nurses are exposed to this radiation on a daily basis, without the protection of sunscreen or lead aprons. Except for eye protection, no extra caution has been medically mandated. There has been no evidence or report to suggest a direct link between skin cancer and hair removal lasers.
Fact: Your doctor’s qualification along with the type and quality of laser device used will determine the safety and efficacy of your treatment
Family doctors, dentists, gynaecologists – everyone is cashing in on the trend. But when it comes to truly understanding the biophysical interaction between laser energy and skin tissue, the dermatologist is still the only expert. This is a definite advantage when it comes to using the device to its best potential in all kinds of skin tones and hair textures. There are 5 major technologies which are used for laser epilation, and over 50 different devices used across the world. Dermatologists spend several months testing and training with various technologies before they choose their devices. Diode and Alexandrite lasers are considered the most effective while YAG laser is the safest in darker skin types. Top-rated dermatologists generally offer at least 3 technologies at their center, in order to offer the widest range of solutions for even the most stubborn hair.
Myth: Getting your bikini hair lasered away will affect your fertility
Nonsense. Laser radiation will not cook or fry your eggs, so you can breathe easy.
Fact: Eflornithine cream can make facial hair thinner
Eflornithine cream is prescribed by dermatologists for women with fine facial hair. It doesn’t work well on thick hair or body hair. And it obviously works best when it is combined with laser treatments. The other catch is that the results are reversible. When you stop using the cream, the hair will gradually become thicker again.
Myth: Regular waxing will make your body hair thinner
Waxing involves plucking and tearing out of body hair from the roots. When done regularly over a period of several YEARS, some of these hair follicles may undergo sufficient permanent damage leading to thinning of the hair. But most women will never experience this thinning effect.
Fact: You should not thread, pluck or wax in between laser treatment sessions
Laser hair reduction works by targeting and eliminating the hair roots. So your doctor will need your roots to be intact, to get the best results from the treatment. Threading, plucking, machine epilation and waxing rips the hair out from the roots. You can chose to shave or use a depilatory cream instead.
Myth: Bleaching and depilatory creams are 100% safe
It is not possible to bleach or dissolve hair without using chemicals. So if you have sensitive or eczema-prone skin, you could end up with a rash or a chemical burn.
Fact: Electrolysis is the only way to permanently destroy hair follicles
Electrolysis is painful and involves inserting a needle through the skin, to burn the hair follicle using electrical energy. There is a higher risk of burning and scarring and you will need several more sessions to see the results. But this is the only effective option to get rid of gray hair, blonde hair, fine hair and for tricky jobs like eyebrow shaping. Dermatologists do not use lasers for eyebrow shaping as it is not safe to get the radiation too close to your eyes