HAIR REMOVAL – The Ultimate Guide. TIPS & TRICKS

Giulia was recently interviewed about hair removal options. There are so many myths, stories and other tales going around, we thought we would get right to it. Here are the questions everyone asks and the honest and factual information to help you choose the right treatment for your hair concerns.

What services or treatments are available for someone seeking permanent hair removal?

We class Hair removal as being a reduction, never permanent as there is always a few active hair follicles left behind. There are a few professional options. These are Electrolysis, IPL (intense pulsed light) and Laser hair reduction. 

Electrolysis is where a single hair at a time is treated with an electrode. The electrode is carefully guided into the hair follicle, and a single blast of energy (heat and current) are directed at the hair follicle. This causes the hair follicle to shut down. This is a very laborious and tiresome procedure as each hair needs to be treated one at a time. However this treatment is perfect for those with grey or white hair, which can spring up around the chin in menopausal women.

IPL, or Intense Pulsed Light, uses light energy emitted from a Xenon Bulb to target the pigment in the hair. This is why it is not possible to have tanned skin prior to treatment, as the IPL will target skin pigment too. This light travels through the skin until it hits the pigment in the hair. As the light is absorbed, the hair follicle is heated and destroyed. However, only hair that is in the growing phase is destroyed, as the hair follicle or root of the hair is not subject to heat damage unless the cells are actively dividing. This active phase is called the Anagen Phase.

Laser works in a similar way to IPL, except that the light is much more intense and focussed, and tends to be more effective as a result. Similarly your skin needs to be untanned (not even fake tan) or you risk a burn as the laser will target any pigment, but we want the energy to target the hair pigment. Again the hair follicle is precisely heated and destroyed whilst it is in the active phase of growing. Only about 20% of hair follicles are active at any one time.

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Could you provide a simple description of the treatment and its clinical steps?

The process for electrolysis is:

  1. The area is cleansed
  2. A fine probe is inserted into the hair follicle and the technician holds the hair tight with tweezers.
  3. A current is passed through the probe and the hair will release from the follicle. After care usually consists of aloe vera gel
  4. Multiple treatments may be needed to weaken the hair causing the hair follicle to cease function

The process for IPL is:

  1. The area is cleansed and the hair is shaved (if not done beforehand by the client)
  2. An ultrasound gel is spread over the skin to conduct the IPL light through to the skin. Test patch can be done 24 hours beforehand.
  3. Client wears protective glasses. The IPL head is passed over the skin, firing shots as the therapist goes. This covers a large area in a short time.
  4. After treatment, the gel is removed and aftercare soothing products are applied.

The process for Laser is:

  1. The area is cleansed and the hair is shaved (if not done beforehand by the client). Test patch can be done 24 hours beforehand.
  2. Client wears protective glasses. The skin is marked in a grid pattern if doing a large area such as the legs. The laser is passed over the skin, firing shots as the therapist goes. This covers a large area in a short time.
  3. After treatment, the skin has aftercare soothing products applied.

What is the difference between laser and IPL hair removal?

IPL is created by using a Xenon flash lamp which creates a burst of light. This light is made up of all wavelengths of light, but is then filtered in the IPL handpiece. Most commonly the filters create a red light for Hair reduction, yellow for capillary treatment and blue light for acne treatment. 

IPL light is also prone to scattering which is why the ultrasound gel is required and the handpiece needs to contact the skin. The closer the contact, the less scattering that occurs.

The quality of the light that hits the skin varies widely on the handpiece filter and the quality of the filter. Scratches can occur when cleaning the handpiece or with ultrasound gel being left on the filter for a prolonged time. This means that light can scatter.

Laser on the other hand is created by an internal crystal within the equipment. Most commonly, an Nd:YAG laser is suited to the task of hair removal. This type of laser uses a crystal Neodymium-Doped Yttrium Aluminum Garnet to create a laser light, which is all of a specific wavelength. No filtering is needed. The light beams also come out of the laser handpiece in one pulse and in one direction, which is very precise, and is called Collimated. This makes for a very exacting beam that is highly targeted and precise.

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Who is permanent hair removal best suited to?

In general, hair removal is best suited to anyone who finds using a shaver or waxing annoying. It can seriously be life-changing for some people as you no longer need to plan your wardrobe around your hair removal cycle.

If using IPL or laser, the best skin and hair types are non-tanned fair skin with a dark hair. This provides the best contrast for the IPL or laser to work with. Generally the thicker the hair, the better too. 

However, a good dermal therapist will do a test patch to work out the best settings for your skin and hair type, and perform the treatment for you so that treatment runs smoothly and the results are as expected.

Who is permanent hair removal least suited to?

IPL and Laser hair removal do not work on light grey or white hair. This is where electrolysis is better suited. However if using electrolysis, be aware that only one hair can be targeted at a time, and this is usually a laborious and timely method.

Tanned skin is not suitable, and similarly people that naturally have very dark skin are not well suited to Laser or IPL treatment. This has the risk of targeting the skin itself, rather than the hair follicle. This could result in burns if the therapist is not well trained.

What are some of the myths around the treatment? For example does it really hurt? Can you get burnt?

Laser hair removal is mildly uncomfortable, but very tolerable. Most people would consider that the discomfort level is no greater than having their legs or arms waxed. Given that most people need between 6-10 treatments to get almost no hair growth this is very manageable, when compared to a lifetime of waxing.

Laser mishaps can definitely happen. In Australia, the use of Lasers is not regulated (with the exception of QLD and WA). This means that literally anyone with enough money to buy a laser can buy one and use it. This also means that non-legitimate operators can purchase their equipment online and start working without a licence. This is indeed a concern. So there a number of checks that you should consider prior to undergoing treatment:

  1. Does your laser therapist have a laser licence displayed? Ask to see it.
  2. Is your laser therapist a dermal therapist? A dermal therapist has a university qualification that ensures they recognise skin conditions, understand laser treatments and which people are suited.
  3. Does your laser therapist offer a test patch prior to treatment? Test patches are typically performed 24 hours prior to treatment and allows the therapist to test a few energy settings on your skin to ensure that you will have an effective and pleasant experience.
  4. Does your laser therapist supply you with eye protection, and do they wear eye protection?
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Let’s bust some myths! What are the most common ones?

All laser therapists are highly trained and licensed. This is not correct. As mentioned above, lasers can be owned and operated by almost anyone (with the exception of QLD and WA). This means that the laser qualifications of one operator can vary greatly from one person to another. We have all seen the news stories of laser mishaps. It is important to check that your operator is appropriately qualified.

You should wax the area prior to IPL/Laser. If you wax the area, then the laser has nothing to target as there are no hair follicles with pigment. This means that you will have treatment with no result.

Once an area is hair free, it will remain hair free for life. Menopause is a weird and wonderful time! Unfortunately as the levels of estrogen decline, the levels of androgens or male hormones can surge. This can lead to the odd hair popping up around the chin or upper lip that was never there before. So even though you may have been hair free for many years, any hair follicles that have laid dormant, may suddenly spring to life. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome can also cause similar effects.

Is it true that you shouldn’t go into the sun while getting laser and is it ok to just wear sunscreen instead?

Avoiding the sun completely is the only way to go. Sunscreen does not offer complete protection from the sun. Even with an SPF50, about 3% of the UV rays are still hitting the skin. This means that although you may not be burnt, the pigment producing cells have still become active and some level of melanin has been produced. Sometimes this tan is not immediately apparent, and unexpected negative results can occur where skin can redden or burn due to the energy being absorbed in the skin. This generally makes winter the best time to have laser and IPL treatment as most people cover up.

If you’re removing facial hair should you make any changes to your skin care?

Facial hair is generally most concentrated than on the body and most people will apply more skincare than anywhere else. I would recommend that prior to having laser treatment, you cease using Retinol or vitamin a products for at least three days prior. I also recommend that my clients do not exfoliate for at least a week before or after treatment.

Then on the day of treatment and for about a week afterwards, I would avoid applying any active serums. This means do not apply vitamin c, or aha’s as these can sensitise the skin. You should stick to a mild cleanser, use a simple moisturiser and a sunscreen everyday. Sometimes, some clients will also be asked to use soothing products containing aloe vera gel on their skin afterwards to cool and soothe the skin

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What are the most common side effects?

The most common side effect directly after treatment is that the skin can be a little red and warm to touch. The skin can also look a little spotty. This is because every hair follicle will show some inflammation as it has been heated to destroy the hair follicle. This is a desirable outcome. The skin will often feel rough, as the little tiny burnt ends of the hair are left on the skin.

Undertreatment of the area can occur. This is where the laser therapist uses energy that is too low to be effective. This means that the client will come back without seeing any appreciable reduction in hair growth between treatments.

Thank goodness burns are particularly rare. When the skin burns, a blister can occur which will take time to heal. Afterwards this can lead to a temporary darkening of the skin, or a more permanent whitening of the skin as the cells that produce melanin in the skin are also damaged during treatment. Having test patching can eliminate these side effects.

What is your opinion on at-home IPL devices and are they safe?

IPL devices at home cannot not generate anywhere near the energy required to reduce hair long-term or effectively. Whatsmore, most IPL devices for home do not require any eye protection. There was a study undertaken to measure the safety of these devices, and they were found to have the potential to cause corneal damage. This is of particular concern seeing these devices are very easy to purchase.

IPL devices do show some promise in reducing hair growth, but this does vary widely between machines. The real concern is that the consumer has no training, and there are no safety protocol in place to account for which machine emits high energy versus a machine that emits low level energy. There is just no way of knowing what the energy outputs are and whether you are spending money on equipment that will actually produce a result you are happy with.

What should people be looking for when booking a treatment?

As above, there a number of checks that you should consider prior to undergoing treatment:

a. Does your laser therapist have a laser licence displayed? Ask to see it.

b. Is your laser therapist a dermal therapist? A dermal therapist has a university qualification that ensures they recognise skin conditions, understand laser treatments and which people are suited.

c. Does your laser therapist offer a test patch prior to treatment? Test patches are typically performed 24 hours prior to treatment and allows the therapist to test a few energy settings on your skin to ensure that you will have an effective and pleasant experience.

d. Does your laser therapist supply you with eye protection, and do they wear eye protection?

In what instances might the hair grow back?

 Hormonal changes that reduce estrogen levels can result in hair growth. This generally results in a spike in androgen, or male hormones.

Commonly these conditions are:

  1. menopause
  2. pregnancy
  3. Poly-cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
  4. Cessation of the oral contraceptive pill

Less commonly, hair can grow due to:

  1. medicines, such as minoxidil which is taken for high blood pressure
  2. congenital adrenal hyperplasia – a hereditary condition which affects the adrenal glands (which produce sex hormones)
  3. Cushing’s Syndrome or Acromegaly – rare hormonal disorders
  4. being overweight or obese
  5. disturbances of the ovaries.

Thanks for reading!

Written by Giulia D’Anna

BDSc (Melb), MRACDS, Honorary FIADFE (NY), Graduate Diploma Dermal Therapies (AACDS), Cert. Practice Man (UNE), Editor APJ (APAN) + | + 3 Belmore Road, Balwyn North, Victoria, Australia 3104 + | + Founder of iDental and Dermal Distinction

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