Laser Hair Removal: A Modern Miracle

laser hair removal

Although it seems common today, laser hair removal was just a vision only 20 years ago.  Working at Harvard with the most prominent minds in laser science, I was determined to use our knowledge of light-based energy to safely, effectively and permanently eliminate unwanted hair from large body areas.  After two years of clinical research, my colleagues and I co-invented laser hair removal.  This patent is something I am extremely proud of to this day.

Feelings About Unwanted Hair

As a young athlete and swimmer, I was sensitive to the way women disliked what they perceived as “too much” hair on their arms, bikinis or legs.  For teens especially, excess body hair can complicate their overall feelings around other body changes they are experiencing.

And it’s not just teens. In medical school I learned excess hair was also an embarrassment for men.  Too much chest or back hair can make many men self conscious – and older men don’t like the appearance of hair in and around their ears.

 Why Was LHR Needed?

Before laser hair removal, the only options to remove unwanted hair were very limited and not ideal:

  • Shaving is a temporary solution, often repeated daily, and can lead to bumps, ingrown hairs and stubble
  • Chemical depilatories actually gelatinize the hair; the process can smell, cause rashes and also result in stubble
  • Waxing allows you to pull out the hairs – but only after you’ve let them grow long; it can be painful and lead to ingrown hairs
  • Electrolysis permanently removes hair but works only in very small areas

With laser hair removal, there is no stubble, ingrown hairs or bumps.  After 5-7 sessions, you only need to come in for touch-ups occasionally.  The procedure is great for all body parts – even large areas like legs and back.  Best of all, you’re virtually hair-free … permanently.

How Does Laser Hair Removal Work?

In laser hair removal, a laser shines light onto the skin, which is absorbed by the darker color in the hair. The absorption of light turns into heat and the heat destroys the hair.  It’s the same principle as a black car seat on a sunny day.  We all know what happens when the light of the sun shines on a dark fabric or leather … it gets hot.  With a laser, the process happens quickly so you don’t actually feel the heat – it’s more like a quick snap of a rubber band.

 LHR: What You Need to Know

Because the hair follicle grows in three stages, multiple treatments of laser hair removal are needed to target each follicle at the right stage of growth.  Most patients need a minimum of 5-7 treatments before they are virtually hair free, needing only occasional touch-ups.

Today, laser hair removal is available for women and men of all skin types.

Although it works over 80% of the time, there are some patients where it doesn’t work.

The most popular areas in my practice for laser hair removal are: for women, underarm, bikini, legs, face, chest, abdomen and breast; for men, back, neck shoulders, arms, ears, thick beards and abdomen.

Remember – laser hair removal is safe and effective when done by a trained physician. If not done properly, there can be complications including burns, scars, permanent discoloration (white or browning of the skin), and infection.

 Laser Hair Removal at Home

In recent years, scientists have been able to miniaturize the technology to develop at-home lasers for hair removal.  In my experience, some products are useful for touch-ups in between in-office visits.

Special Conditions That Impact Hair Growth

Sometimes a patient’s frustration with unwanted hair is purely cosmetic – but sometimes, excessive hair growth can be a sign of an underlying internal disease such as an endocrine disorder.   For this reason, when hair is present in areas not commonly seen or in large amounts, a referral to an endocrine specialist may be warranted.

Some common conditions include:

  • Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia
  • Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

This hormonal disorder is common among women of reproductive age and is often tied to the appearance of cysts on the ovary.  Excess hair growth, acne and obesity are common signs of PCOS.

In cases where there is an abnormal endocrine status, we work with an endocrinologist to normalize the endocrine or hormone levels prior to treatment in order to make laser hair removal more effective.

 Post-Menopausal Hair Growth

The hormonal changes of menopause can also lead to excess hair.  It’s common to experience a proliferation of the hair on the face at/during menopause.

 Interested in Laser Hair Removal?

Everyday, at least one of my patients tells me that laser hair removal changed their life.  People really hate unwanted hair – and really hate shaving and the other options available.

Although it’s a year-round procedure, many patients start laser hair removal with beach season in mind. To get ready for summer, consider starting your hair removal treatments in January … by May you’ll be enjoying smooth, hair-free skin.

About the author

Dr. Melanie Grossman (Princeton A.B., New York University M.D., Yale Internship, Columbia University Residency, Harvard Fellowship) is a board certified dermatologist and laser surgeon. A co-inventor and patent-holder of laser hair removal, Dr. Grossman is renowned globally as a pioneer of laser science. Her private practice features state-of-the-art laser and energy based devices, as well as a broad range of treatments to achieve healthy, beautiful skin for your face and body.