Beauty and Anti Aging

Are There Risks to Laser Hair Removal?

Are There Risks to Laser Hair Removal?

Key Takeaways

  • Laser hair removal therapy uses an intense beam of light, a process also known as photo thermolysis.
  • Short-term side effects of laser hair removal may include swelling and redness, which typically subside in a few days, while rare side effects like burns and change in skin color are faced mostly if the procedure is performed incorrectly.  
  • As the laser is absorbed by melanin, the darker the skin, the higher the risk of damage. 

What is laser hair removal?

In recent years, the need to have hair removed from certain parts of the body has grown rapidly. Among the most popular hair removal methods is laser hair removal, and the New York Times reported that there were over half a million such procedures performed in 2011 in the US alone.

But, how effective is laser hair removal really? In general, it is a safe and fast treatment which helps you get rid of or reduce the hair in your body. Even though a couple of treatments are necessary, you will have a smooth and hairless body. Some hair is even resistant to the laser hair removal treatment or can even grow again after the treatment. The new hair, however, is lighter in color and finer.

Make sure you do your research when choosing a laser hair removal treatment center. Find out who will be performing the procedure and what his or her training, experience and credentials are. The professional should be able to answer all of your questions about the procedure and address any concerns. 

In laser hair removal therapy an intensely strong beam of light is used, a process also known as photothermolysis. The energy produced by the laser or light beam is absorbed by the melanin located in the targeted hair root, and this damages the hair follicle. When the hair follicle gets damaged, future hair growth stops. As hair grows in three different stages, a couple of treatments are necessary before you have a smooth and hairless skin. Since laser hair removal relies on the melanin to absorb the laser which destroys the hair follicle, the procedure is not as effective for people who have grey or white hair. The darker the hair, the better the melanin will absorb the light.

Just about any part of the body that has hair follicles can be treated with laser hair removal. This includes the face, the head, the neck, the chest or back, the arms or legs, along with the genital region. There are sensitive body parts such as the eyes which should be avoided. Such treatment around the eyeball or eyelid is not recommended. 

Usually, your skin will look and feel as though you have experienced sunburn on the treated area for a few days after the procedure. To relieve pain and burning sensations, cold compresses and lotions might help. If your skin is blistering, do not try to cover it up with makeup, because this will cause further irritation. 

Throughout the month following the procedure, the hair that was targeted should fall out. Your skin in the treated area will likely be sensitive, so to prevent damage be sure to wear sunscreen. 

Possible side effects of laser hair removal include:

Pain

You can expect to experience some degree of pain during the procedure, and this is normal. However, if the procedure is not done properly, then the pain experienced can become excruciating and even unbearable.

Skin irritation

After the procedure, you may experience some itching around the area that was treated, but this feeling usually goes away after a few hours. To help soothe the skin irritation, a compression with ice for a few minutes will help.

Discoloration of the skin on the treated area

The treated area will also often become red, but that’s only because of the heat produced during the procedure. Discoloration, too, might occur, where the skin becomes lighter on a dark-skinned person or darker on a light-skinned person.

Heat from laser hair removal equipment targets the darker parts of the skin, and therefore, it is most effective when the hair is dark and the skin light. Nevertheless, the settings could be adjusted so that it works regardless of the skin or hair color, but the discoloration may occur if the settings are not properly inputted. When this happens, do not panic, and the skin color will regain its tone in a few hours.

People who have darker shades of skin might experience skin lightening. If the wrong laser is used or a laser is used at the wrong setting, a person's skin could lighten in the treated region. 

Skin tone changes

Hypopigmentation or hyperpigmentation can also occur after the procedure. Hypopigmentation is when treatment causes the skin to lighted. The laser can sometimes inhibit the production process of melanin, leading to a permanent loss of pigmentation. This means that hypopigmentation is not reversible.

On the other hand, hyperpigmentation is a darkening of the skin on the treated area. The laser can sometimes stimulate the production process of melanin, a reaction similar to the body's reaction of getting a suntan.

Skin burns

Burns are one of the most frequent risks of the procedure, which happen when the skin absorbs the laser beam instead of the hair follicle. If the treating professional is well experienced, burns are less likely to occur. If the procedure is performed incorrectly and or by a non-professional, burns along with other risks may be experienced. 

Since darker skin absorbs more light, people with darker skin tones are more likely to experience burns. 

Typically these skin burns are mild. However, severe skin burns have also been reported as a result of laser hair removal. As mentioned, in most of the cases skin burns have resulted from treatments performed by inexperienced and not qualified people.

In rare cases, laser hair removal treatment can cause blistering, crusting or scarring of the skin.

Harmful toxins

There is usually a plume of smoke discharged during the procedure as the hair follicles are ‘burned’ and various toxins have been found in this smoke. This poses a risk only to the practitioner, not the client, and can be avoided by using a face mask or evacuator – suction machines.

Laser hair removal can sometimes, in rare occasions, cause serious changes in the skin like scarring, crusting or blistering. Swelling, redness, color changes of treated hair, or increased hair growth are other uncommon side effects of the procedure. 

Misconceived risks

Besides the superficial risks cited above, some people might not want laser hair removal due to misconceptions about the effects of the procedure. Chief among these concerns is cancer, which some people are afraid may be caused by the radiation produced by the lasers. However, this thinking is not true, and is in fact, just a worry from the mere idea of radiation.

You see, the radiation from laser hair removal equipment is non-ionizing radiation, which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states does not cause any harm.

The dangerous kind of radiation is ionizing radiation produced by gamma and X-rays. Ionizing radiation has a higher frequency and can pass through the body, affecting the cells’ DNA and causing cancer.

Besides, radiation from laser hair removal is only superficial, turning into heat and only destroying the hair follicles. This same concerns spread to the effects of the procedure on fertility, particularly if the procedure is performed in the genital area. Again, this is just not true because the radiation does not go past the skin layer.

Be informed about any hair removal treatment you choose. Also, be sure the procedure is suitable for your skin type. The cost is something you should think about too, so choose a treatment method that's affordable for you and within a reasonable price range.

Make sure to choose a reputable clinic and a professional team for your laser hair removal treatment. In the hands of a non–professional the laser hair removal therapy can become dangerous. The damage can outweigh its benefits.

Be careful when considering salons or spas offering this treatment. Even though they often offer inexpensive laser hair removal therapy, this therapy is usually performed by non–professionals. Choose dermatologists or plastic surgeons instead to perform the procedure.