Laser hair removal is all the rage, with more and more people every day choosing to zap away certain areas of unwanted body hair. But with the increasing popularity of laser hair removal, more people are asking the question: can they get the treatment, too?
So can anyone get laser hair removal? While laser hair removal is generally a safe and quick procedure when performed by trained professionals, there are certain conditions that may render an individual ineligible for the treatment, or with some considerations. These conditions include:
- Antibiotic Treatments
- Cold Sores
- Teenage patient
How Does Laser Hair Removal Work?
The science behind laser hair removal is generally summed up as the process by which high-intensity beams of light (laser) burn off the hair on your skin. To understand why laser hair removal shouldn’t be performed on every willing patient, it is important to understand the exact science behind laser hair removal.
Laser hair removal works by targeting the pigment in your hair; the greater the pigment, the darker the color of the hair. Hair pigmentation (as well as pigmentation in the skin and eyes) is caused by a molecule known as melanin.
Melanin in Laser Hair Removal
Melanin has been found to absorb light wavelengths, particularly ultraviolet waves. This allows melanin to protect the body from the sun’s ultraviolet waves; the tan you get after prolonged exposure to the sun is the body producing extra melanin on your skin for protection.
With laser hair removal, doctors administer measured beams of light to the skin. Here, the melanin in your hair absorbs most of the energy directed at the area. This keeps your skin relatively protected while your hair is burned and damaged.
This high-intensity energy travels down to the root of the hair, killing not only the hair follicle where the hair grows, but also the germ cells inside the follicles, creating the semi-permanent loss of hair growth. It is important to note that the energy beamed to the skin can be extremely high in heat, with temperatures over 100 degrees Celsius.
Recent advances in laser technology now allow clinics to successfully perform laser hair removal on patients with less melanin in their hair, or patients with lighter hair (or those with a subtle contrast between their hair and skin pigmentation). Lasers such as the alexandrite laser or the Nd:YAG laser include another step, such as dyeing the hair first or using a longer, more sensitive wavelength.
Read more: The History of Laser Hair Removal: When and How It Was Invented
Laser Hair Removal Safety
Considering the high levels of heat involved in laser hair removal, the first concern for most potential patients is the treatment’s safety. The good news is that for a large majority of people, laser hair removal is completely safe, with no long-term health risks observed. For most people, only some side effects are possible, including:
- Irritation and redness: Caused by the skin becoming tender or swelling after the hair follicles become damaged. Patients will experience symptoms similar to the irritation and redness on the skin after the body hair has been plucked or waxed.
- Crusting: Crusting is a minor possibility, in with the affected skin slightly crusts over, potentially leading to scarring or scabbing. Proper application of moisturizer can help.
- Eye injury: If the laser treatment is applied to an area anywhere near the eyes, it is important for the patient to wear protective eye equipment.
- Skin color change: Laser hair removal can sometimes cause the skin to become lighter or darker than its usual color. Fortunately, any color changes will be temporary and revert back to normal over time.
- Skin infection: Like with other hair removal options, there is always a slight risk of skin infection due to the loss of the hair follicle. While your skin is healing, treat it gently and carefully as you would treat a wound.
- Burns: If the practitioner of the laser hair removal is inexperienced, there is a slight possibility of the patient experiencing blisters and burns on the skin.
Who Can’t Get Laser Hair Removal?
While the safety issues for most people who undergo laser hair removal are quite minor and temporary, there are some conditions and other factors that raise the risk of complications. In some cases, most doctors would recommend disqualifying a patient entirely from undergoing laser hair removal due to health and safety concerns.
Conditions that disqualify individuals or require special consideration when dealing with laser hair removal include:
|Condition||Laser Hair Removal?||Reason|
|Pregnancy||No||Lack of studies on the possible effects on the fetus|
|Sunburn||No||Sunburned skin cannot be treated with more heat|
|Diabetes||Maybe||Insulin-dependent patients may be more sensitive and may be asked to consult their doctors|
|Tattoo||No (depending on tattoo location)||The laser can’t differentiate tattoo skin from hair pigmentation, leading to potential skin damage|
|Eczema||Maybe||Only if there is no open wound, as it may lead to bacteria colonization|
|Antibiotics||No||Antibiotics can increase photosensitivity, leading to more heat damage from the laser|
|Cold Sores||Maybe||Should not be done on patients with active cold sores, as it can aggravate the cold sore|
|Vitiligo||No||The varying skin tone makes it impossible for the laser to treat the skin and hair effectively, risking skin damage|
|Teenager (or Younger)||Maybe||While there is no additional risk for the minimum age (14), there is the possibility of ineffective treatments due to hormonal changes|
Doctors generally recommend waiting until a few months after the baby is born before undergoing laser hair removal. While there are no clear side effects or problems linking pregnancy and laser hair removal, there is also no information available on the effect lasers may have on the fetus.
Realistically, the lasers you experience during laser hair removal are superficial, only penetrating beyond the top layer of the skin. This means there should be no major problem with laser hair removal on pregnant women. However, doctors generally recommend patients to be careful and avoid it as the safety has yet to be studied on pregnant women.
Other hair removal options during pregnancy include:
- Electrolysis – Similar to laser hair removal, there are no studies confirming its safety on pregnant women, so it is also recommended to avoid this treatment. As the baby is surrounded by fluid, doctors recommend not performing electrolysis on a pregnant mother, as the fluid can help conduct the electricity.
- Waxing – You may be more sensitive during pregnancy, so check with your doctor first before having any part of your body waxed.
- Shaving – The easiest and most convenient method of hair removal during pregnancy. If you are unable to reach certain areas, have your partner assist you.
If you are sunburned in the part of the body where you intend to have laser hair removal, then it is impossible to undergo a successful treatment. This is because a sunburn or a tan will cause sun-induced inflammation, or the skin redness you experience with a tan.
When your skin is in this state, any additional heat on the skin will have little to no effect, rendering the laser treatment useless. The sunburned or tanned skin has to be thoroughly healed before a laser hair removal session, with no peeling, redness, or other irritation. Doctors generally recommend waiting 1-2 weeks after a tan and up to 6-8 weeks after a major sunburn before undergoing laser hair removal.
Some doctors and clinics are reluctant about performing laser hair removal on diabetes who are insulin-dependent. This is largely due to the extra sensitivity experienced by insulin-dependent diabetics, as well as the increased likeliness of developing infections due to a weaker and slower healing system.
While laser hair removal is largely a safe treatment, it is impossible to guarantee the reactions of the body to high-intensity light beams, particularly to insulin-dependent diabetics. With the possibilities of infection, blisters, and swelling, many clinics are unlikely to perform this treatment on certain diabetics. In certain cases, you may be asked to provide a doctor’s note.
Most people believe that having a tattoo prohibits you from getting laser hair removal in the area, but this isn’t always the case. Firstly, it depends where your tattoo is located. You can’t have laser hair removal performed over an area that has a tattoo, meaning tattoos such as full sleeves can stop you from getting underarm laser hair removal.
The reason why this is difficult is because laser hair removal works by targeting the pigmentation of the skin; with a tattoo, the laser can’t differentiate the pigmentation of the hair from the tattoo. Laser hair removal performed on tattoos will end up severely burning and scarring the skin.
The most that a laser hair removal technician or doctor can do is cover your tattoo with a template while removing the surrounding body hair. This protects the tattooed skin from laser damage while allows the doctor to safely burn away the hair.
For most people with eczema, laser hair removal shouldn’t be a problem, as most eczema can be found in skin folds, or parts of the body that do not have hair (or much hair). If you intend to have laser hair removal on a part of the skin with eczema, then it is important to make sure that there are no open sores in the skin, or you risk the colonization of bacteria due to the procedure.
For about a week prior to your laser hair removal treatment, make sure to control the eczema with topical immunomodulators or trusted moisturizers. This will ensure that any skin breakdown or irritation is minimal. After the treatment, it is advised to apply some mild steroid cream or lubricant on the treated skin.
There are many kinds of antibiotics that we take, either as short-term or long-term solutions depending on the type of infection. Unfortunately, antibiotics and laser hair removal do not go hand in hand.
Antibiotics can increase a person’s photosensitivity, making the skin more vulnerable to heat damage, leading to greater risk of fatigue, blisters, joint pain, fever, rashes, and more. If you are under any long-term treatment of antibiotic, it is important to consult your doctor before undergoing laser hair removal.
If you have to take an antibiotic in between laser hair removal treatments due to a sudden illness or infection, it is important that you space at least seven days between your last antibiotic and your next laser hair removal session.
Cold Sores or Breakouts
Laser hair removal should never be performed on a patient with active cold sores or breakouts. This is because the heat that the body receives from the laser can aggravate the cold sore, making the breakout much worse.
Patients who are prone to cold sores should take anti-viral medication prior to the laser hair removal sessions to help minimize the risk of a breakout between the sessions. For best assurance, consult your doctor before your laser hair removal.
Vitiligo, or the condition in which certain areas of the skin have destroyed pigment cells, can make it difficult if not impossible to perform laser hair removal on a patient, depending on the severity of the condition.
This is due to the way lasers work on the skin. Laser hair removal requires consistent pigmentation contrast between the skin and the hair. Different heat levels and different types of lasers are required for different skin color types and hair color types. Patients with vitiligo who have dramatically inconsistent skin tones are at danger of getting burned, or potentially experiencing no results at all.
While laser hair removal can be performed safely on a teenager (or younger), there are some points to consider before letting your child undergo the treatment. Firstly, any patient under the age of 18 requires the presence or written consent of their parent or guardian. The patient should understand that the normal risks of laser hair removal can also occur in them.
Secondly, while it’s generally accepted that 14 is the minimum age for laser hair removal, most doctors suggest that a patient should wait until they are post-puberty for more hormonal stability.
And finally, laser hair removal on patients younger than 18 can have unexpected results, as hormonal changes are rampant and hair growth is unpredictable. It is generally suggested to wait until a patient is at least 18 or 19, when their hormones have begun to stabilize.
For even more insight into this subject, read our post: 8 Reasons Why Laser Hair Treatment May Not Be Working For You
Ethos Spa: Your Home for Laser Hair Removal and More
Ethos Spa Skin and Laser Center is the premier clinic in New Jersey for laser hair removal and other skin and laser treatments. If you are considering laser hair removal and would like to know more, feel free to contact us today to schedule your consultation.