Tired of being hairy? Good news. New-generation lasers can treat any hair type, even olive or black, says Anna Magee (who is olive skinned and very hairy)
I am so hairy. So hairy. Thanks to my Greek/Egyptian background, I was born in a relentlessly hirsute body that grows thick, coarse black hair everywhere including on my stomach, chin, nostrils and back.
Were I to let it all grow out I could be the subject of a Horizon documentary.
Until recently I always steered clear of laser hair removal because of warnings that it wouldn’t work for olive skin with dark hair like mine. But recently, admiring my sister’s hair-free, shiny pins I asked her secret.
‘Laser,’ she said. But he colouring is exactly the same as mine. What did she know that I didn’t? I set out to find out.
You can now treat all skin types – even black
‘When we first started using lasers we used to use technology that predominantly worked on pale skin with darker hair’, says Dr Daron Seukeran, consultant dermatologist and Group Medical Director of sk:n Clinics.
Old-generation lasers used a process of light being absorbed by the melanin or dark pigment in the hair. That mens with her pale skin and dark hair, Rosie Williams would have been a good candidate even for the old machines.
But it also meant that olive. Asian and black-skinned people couldn’t have it, for risk of burning.
If you had a dark skin tone with lots of dark hair, the old-generation lasers wanted to absorb the pigment in the skin too. This could cause effects such as blistering, crusting and even scarring and hyperpigmentation.
‘Now, newer lasers can be set at different wavelengths, so the light doesn’t get absorbed by the surrounding skin pigment as much,’ he explains. ‘Because of that we now have lasers that can treat all skin types, including olive, Asian and black’.
Do your research – and know what type of laser is being used
Having said that, it’s important to go to someone with proven experience – lots of it – and real skill. In the wrong hands, treating dark skin with laser hair removal is still dangerous. This is especially true if they are still using old-school lasers, and many are.
‘Treating darker skins with lasers is always going to be tricky and many places don’t have the experience, the facilities or the skill to treat darker skin, so you have to do your research,’ says Dr Seukeran.
A Mediterranean olive skin like mine – known in the trade as type 3-4 –is still tricky to work with according to Dr Seukeran, so if you have olive skin, it’s key to go to a clinic where they have expertise and experience in dealing with that particular skin type.
I was obviously hyper-aware of this myself when I finally opted for laser hair removal (so paranoid in fact, that I cancelled three appointments before finally booking into sk:n clinic in Holborn, where a friend with a similar skin tone had experienced amazing results on her underarms.
Sk:n Clinics deliver around 140,000 LHR treatments a year, so I knew I would be in good hands.
‘We usually use the long-pulsed NDYAG laser for darker skin types,’ says Dr Seukeran. ‘The original lasers could only be used on paler skin and dark hair types because they had limited wavelengths. These are lasers such as Alexandrite, IPL or Q switched ruby lasers.
‘The new NDYAG lasers have multiple wavelengths. By adjusting the amount of time, the laser is in contact with the skin, we can now treat a myriad of different skin types.
‘However, as with all sophisticated technology, the long-pulsed NDYAG laser is expensive. This means that many places that offer laser hair removal – such as hairdressers’ and beauty salons – tend to use cheaper, older systems. This can put people who aren’t the standard ‘pale skin, dark hair’ candidate at risk of blistering, hyper-pigmentation and scarring.’
You should be seeing results after the first few treatments
Indeed, anyone having laser hair removal, should be assessing their results after 2-3 treatments, as the hair growth should have changed.
For me, the results have been astounding, and I have only had two treatments out of a course of eight (see below). The hair is much, much finer and sparser. Where I used to shave daily, now I only shave once a fortnight.
My practitioner said that with each session, you usually get a 10 per cent reduction in hair growth.
‘It varies from person to person: some patients receive significantly more reduction in the first 2-3 treatments and others experience slower results’ advises Dr Seukeran.
It might help deal with ingrown hairs
If I had a pound for every ingrown hair I have had since I started shaving at 14….
However, since having laser hair removal – and remember, I am only two treatments in – my ingrown hairs have virtually disappeared. That angry spotty rash that used to appear after I shaved? Gone.
Ingrown hairs cause inflammation, and it’s that inflammation which causes that lumpy, bumpy, angry look of the skin after waxing and shaving.
‘Men and women get ingrown hairs that come up like spots on the legs, bikini or beard area. Sometimes, by using lasers, we can improve that because it destroys the ingrown hairs at their follicles.
‘Once the ingrown hairs are destroyed, there is nothing to grow inwards and the problem often goes away,’ says Dr Seukeran.
Wait until you don’t have a tan
If you have a pronounced tan, light in the laser will react to the darkened pigment of the skin and may burn the skin.
For the same reason, having any fake tan or make up on just before you have a treatment is also a no-no.
‘But if you do have a tan, it simply means you have to tell the practitioner, so they can adjust the laser accordingly,’ Dr Seukeran says. ‘With fake tan, it’s best to ensure it’s all removed ten days before you have your laser treatment.’
Be careful if you’re on certain medications
If you have taken courses of Roaccutane (isotretinoin), an oral medication used for severe acne, it’s important to be careful as it can cause a higher risk of hyperpigmentation in the first six months after LHR treatment.
There are also some drugs which cause photosensitivity, which means they increase the susceptibility of the skin to burning during LHR treatment. These include some common antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and some cancer and diabetes medications, so it’s key to disclose everything you’re taking to your practitioner.
You can’t get the same results from a home laser kit
Love Island’s Rosie Williams revealed she has brought an IPL home laser hair removal kit into the Love Island villa.
But a few years ago, I was asked to try out a home laser hair removal kit for a national newspaper. I tried it on one leg to see what difference it would make. While the hair reduced by about 50 per cent it had grown back to normal within about six months.
According to Dr Seukeran, there is no manufacturer of an at-home laser hair product that could develop one to have the same strength as a clinic laser. The kind of lasers Dr Seukeran uses are of such a strength they can only be operated by a medical professional, not by an amateur at home.
‘Comparing the power of one of these at-home systems to a long-pulsed NDYAG laser is like talking about a hot fire on one side to a tiny flame on the other. They’re very low energy so they don’t compare to medical grade laser,’ he says.
This is why it takes 8-12 sessions
Wherever there is hair on your body there are three phases of growth: telogen, anagen and catagen phases. Some hairs are resting, some are growing, and some are falling out.
‘Depending on what cycle of growth they are in, the hair responds differently to lasers,’ says Dr Seukeran. ‘You could treat one set of hair and it will respond quickly because it’s in the growing or falling out phase. Others might not respond because they’re in the resting phase.’
It is because of these different stages that the treatment takes 8-12 sessions, between 6-8 weeks apart, to complete and catch 90 per cent of hair in its active phase.
It’s as close to permanent as you can get
Rather than calling the treatment permanent, dermatologists prefer to say laser hair removal leads to long periods of ‘remission’ from hair growth in between treatments.
These get longer and longer until, after 8-12 sessions of laser hair removal treatment, you might be going up to a year without any hair growth at all. If any hair does appear, it’s usually sparse and fine.
‘We have patients who were shaving twice a day who go to only having a treatment once every four months or simply when they get any stray hairs coming through. Other than electrolysis, which can only treat tiny areas, it’s the closest thing to permanent hair removal available today and it can now be used anywhere on the body on any type of skin.’
I’m delighted with my results. I’ve only had three of the 12 sessions I have signed up for and I can barely see any hair already. It’s a miracle.
Sk:n Clinics offer laser hair removal in clinics throughout the country. Click on this link for details.