How does laser hair removal work? What you need to know to get yourself ready for summer.

It’s that time of the year again. Spring has sprung and we all start to think about wearing clothes that will allow us to soak up just a little sunshine. But while we all want smooth skin, no one wants to constantly have to pluck, wax and bleach. So, what is the alternative? Laser hair removal is growing in popularity – and it’s easy to see why.

Is excessive hair a medical condition?

Some racial groups have more hair in unwanted places like the face. People of Mediterranean (Italian and Greek) and southern Indian descent tend to suffer with facial hair more than those of Northern European descent. Occasionally, excessive hair in unwanted places can be a sign of a condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome. You doctor will take a detailed history from you to determine if this is possible and if further tests are required for you.

What methods of hair removal exist?

Shaving, plucking, threading (common in the sub-continent), waxing, depilatory creams, epilation and of course, laser hair removal, are all ways to remove unwanted hair but some of these methods may cause skin irritation, ingrown hairs and allergy. In recent years, laser hair removal has increased in popularity among men and women. Quick, painless treatments with a permanent decrease in hair density and thickness are all part of the attraction.

Hair Removal

How does laser hair removal work?

LASER is an acronym that stands for “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.” Lasers are electronic devices that generate a single colour of light by amplifying photons with more energy. The light of the laser beam is converted to heat. This light is attracted to the pigment in the hair follicle (melanin) and the heat destroys the follicle. So, the darker the hair, the better the response because darker hairs can absorb more heat. White, blonde fine hair won’t respond well to laser hair removal. It is therefore important to have the hair intact before your laser hair removal treatment because if you pluck or wax it, there will be no hair to absorb the heat from the laser.

Can laser hair removal harm internal organs?

This is definitely not true. Laser for hair removal only penetrates down to skin only. No internal side effects have been reported from laser hair removal. However, during treatment, it is important to wear protective goggles to protect your eyes. These will be provided for you during your treatment. Your practitioner will also ensure that you haven’t done anything that will compromise results like sunburn or fake tan.

How painful is laser hair removal?

The discomfort is so mild with laser hair removal that no local anaesthetic is required and no pain relief is needed after treatment either. If you are experiencing intense discomfort during the treatment, you should alert the person performing the treatment as this can be a sign that the settings are not right for you.

How many treatments are needed?

Everyone is different but most people will require about 6-8 treatments to see a 90% reduction in hair density in the region. Each treatment is usually spaced about 6-8 weeks apart.

How do I know if I am getting the right laser treatment for my skin type?

The success of any laser treatment (including laser hair removal), is dependent on the knowledge and experience of the person choosing the settings and operating the laser and the type and quality of the machine being used. In Victoria for example, there are no restrictions on use of lasers. This means that people can quite literally do a 14-hour online course and perform laser treatments. A scary thought with potentially devastating consequences. So, the first thing you need to do is to make sure that your provider is appropriately trained and qualified. Ask your general practitioner or dermatologist for guidance on whom to see for treatment as they will often know people who have the right lasers for you. The better laser providers will take a detailed history to ensure you are safe to commence laser treatments and won’t make you sign contracts for a ‘package of treatments.’ It is important to know that traditional laser hair removal systems are designed for those with light skin and darker hair. Newer lasers using 1064 nanometer Nd:YAG lasers are best for those with skin of colour because they target the hair rather than the skin surface.

Is laser hair removal only safe for lighter skin types?

This was actually true a decade and a half ago but there are now lasers available that are safe and effective for darker skin types. The problem with conventional lasers for hair removal is that they can end up targeting the pigment in the skin of those with darker skin causing brown or white spots to develop. Choosing the right laser for the right skin types is critical for safety and success. Chroma Dermatology has a state-of-the-art laser designed to optimise results for hair removal in patients with non-Caucasian skin types if this is something you are considering.

Is intense pulsed light (IPL) a good treatment for hair removal?

IPL is probably the most common device used for hair removal. It actually isn’t a laser by definition – it is an “intense pulse of light.” IPL is routinely used in ‘retail skin clinics’ and beauty salons. IPL can be good, but it’s not for everyone. While some of these machines may be good for laser hair removal in lighter skin types, they are not safe in people with skin of colour. For those with Asian skin types, IPL can be unpredictable. Those with Indian and African skin types will often get brown markings on the skin, or even white spots, that can take many months to one year to resolve. So, IPL should be avoided in most people with skin of colour.

Laser Hair Removal
*white scars from ipl used for hair removal in a person of mediterranean descent.

Are side effects common with laser hair removal?

Apart from some minor discomfort during the treatment, side effects from laser hair removal are rare. The most common side effect is a skin burn but this is rare when appropriately qualified members of the health care team perform the treatment. So picking the right centre and person for the treatment is critical.

What is the cost of laser hair removal?

This will differ from centre to centre. Generally, the cost of treatment will reflect the experience of the clinic/staff doing the treatment, the quality of the laser being used and the area that is going to be treated. While the initial outlay for laser hair removal is greater than other hair removal methods like waxing, the long-term benefits are obvious. If you have any more questions about how to get your skin ready for summer or if you have questions about laser for other conditions , please feel free to contact our dermatology health-care team.


The information contained in this blog post is intended as a guide only and should not substitute seeking medical attention. Please see your healthcare provider for more information on suitability of products, treatments or procedures.