Is laser hair removal really permanent? How many time have we heard this question? A very legitimate one, but still. Laser hair removal is growing to be one of the most popular hair removal methods. Demand is exploding, prices are dropping, the procedure is more affordable and safer than ever before. To those struggling with hairy bodies, laser hair removal represents the Graal. After all, who wouldn't want to be rid of their hair forever? How amazing would that be? No having to worry about having to do some trimming or get through waxing ever?!
Because comes a point where waxing just becomes so inconvenient (and expensive as well) while shaving is not solving the issue at all. If only, it might have the opposite effect. So of course, when a hair removal treatment is promising smooth skin forever, the occasion is too good to pass. However, is laser hair removal really permanent? At the end of the day, if you are going to pay upfront a few thousands dollars for your treatment, you need to know that it is worth it and that it will deliver on all its promises. Because we are all about transparency, it is a question that we will answer today.
Laser hair removal: permanent or not?
1. How does laser hair removal work?
Laser hair removal is an aesthetic procedure that uses selective photothermolysis. In short, it is the principle according to which, a specific wavelength of light and pulse duration will match to obtain optimal effect on a targeted tissue with minimal effect on surrounding tissue. The laser machine will produce a beam of light targeting pigments in the hair. This energy will travel via the hair to the hair follicle where it will turn into thermal energy.
Once it reaches the hair follicle, this energy will damage it to prevent any further growth. After the procedure, the hair follicle successfully targeted by the laser will no longer be able to produce any more hair, achieving long-term hair removal. As the laser is targeting pigments, laser hair removal will work better on dark hair and light skin, which will offer a sharpe contrast between the two. Thus, the laser will send energy just through the hair and ignore the skin.
However, that does not mean that laser hair removal cannot be done on dark skins or fair hair. It is possible with the right machine using the right type of laser. Typically, those machines will have Nd:YAG lasers which do not rely as much on melanin to be absorbed and get to the hair follicle. It is also essential that patients shave the day before their session to ensure the tip of the hair is just at the surface of the skin. Long hair will prevent most of the energy to get to the follicle and might increase chances of getting burnt.
2. Why is the hair growth cycle so important?
The hair growth cycle is critical in the short-term and long-term success of laser hair removal because the procedure will only work on body hair that is in the anagen phase of growth. Indeed, it is the only time when the hair is physically connected to the hair follicle and able to act as a conduit to get the energy to the follicle. When the hair is in the catagen or telogen phases of growth, it is not connected to the follicle and thus the energy can't get to it.
Each hair is unique and will have a unique growth cycle. Thus, not all your hair will be in the same stage of growth. Indeed, only 20% of all your body hair will be in the anagen phase of growth at any point in time. As a consequence, one laser hair removal session will successfully target up to 20% of the hair on the treated area. This explains why you will need several sessions, so that every single one of your hair can be targeted as they change growth stage.
However, each hair will also stay in one growth cycle more or less longer than the next hair. Indeed, the length of each growth cycle will vary from one hair to another. Thus, it is possible that some hair might never be targeted by the laser because they either were never in the right stage during your sessions or had not grown back yet.
3. Is laser hair removal really permanent?
Laser hair removal is a fairly new way of removing hair if you compare to electrolysis which has been around since the nineteenth century. Thus, there has not been that many studies and research done to prove whether or not laser hair removal is permanent. That is why, the FDA is not qualifying the treatment as permanent, as opposed to electrolysis, which is indeed a permanent hair removal method.
However, electrolysis is a much more inconvenient way of removing body hair. Indeed, the treatment is much longer as only one hair is treated at a time. It is furthermore both more expensive and painful that laser hair removal. Laser hair removal targets a much bigger area, dealing with much more hair at once. For hair removal to be permanent, the hair follicle must be completely destroyed. Laser hair removal damages the follicle enough to prevent growth and regeneration but may eventually destroy it on most areas of the body, except for the face because of hormones.
Furthermore, it is unlikely to permanently remove every single hair follicle. This is because, as explained above, hair growth occurs in multiple phases and can be influenced by hormones or medications. Multiple treatments will lead to long term hair reduction and will be show permanent results for a lot of patients while it may not for other patients.
4. How long will laser hair removal last?
Although laser hair removal is not classified as a permanent hair removal method, it does not mean it cannot be permanent. Some patients will achieve permanent hair removal after their treatments, while other may need more sessions or touch-ups later on. This is due to how unique each hair growth cycle is to each person as well as the uniqueness of hair texture, growth speed and personal lifestyle.
Laser hair removal is a long-term hair growth reduction method. As a matter of fact, laser hair removal can reduce hair growth by up to 90%. People waxing for a long time before trying laser hair removal may see faster and more permanent results. Indeed, in the very long term, waxing contributes to hair growth as well. Some patients will achieve permanent hair removal no matter what.
However, there are a few steps to take that will improve the results of each laser hair removal session. First, patients should not wax between sessions as it interferes with the growth cycle. They should avoid shaving as much as possible as it also stimulates growth. Staying away from direct sun is also essential to protect your skin against sun damage and secondary effects. While some people will never see any regrowth, some may and will need touch-up sessions here and there maybe once a year or so.
5. What could trigger regrowth?
Laser hair removal does not always destroy the hair follicles. Indeed, the treatment will mostly damage the follicle. The repetitive sessions will target the hair follicles again and again, preventing regeneration and allowing for absence of hair during an extended period of time. However, the possibility of hair growing back on some areas is still there. Indeed, after some time, some hair follicles may end up regenerating and produce new hair. However, any hair that remains or regenerates will also be lighter in both texture and color.
Furthermore, it is possible that resting hair follicles that did not produce hair during the treatment and thus could not be targeted wake up. Thus, patients may see a small regrowth. Some hair that was never in the right stage of growth may have never been successfully targeted either. This explained why sometimes patients need a touch-up session.
A hormonal change may trigger laser hair removal. Indeed the hair growth cycle mostly relies on hormones. Hormonal areas are also harder to treat, i.e. the face or the bikini area; and will need more sessions. A huge hormone change like pregnancy or hormone therapy may interfere with the results of laser hair removal. Pregnancy might trigger hair growth in areas where you never ever had hair or boost regrowth where you had the treatment done. The hair will either go on their own after term or will need a touch-up session.
In conclusion, is laser hair removal really permanent? To FDA standards, no, it is not. Laser hair removal is a long-term hair growth reduction method. Some patients will achieve permanent hair removal while others will need either more sessions to complete their treatments or touch-up sessions later on.