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8 Reasons Why Laser Hair Treatment May Not Be Working For You

young blond woman looking at her legs

The hard truth that most clinics and med spas won’t tell their patients is that laser hair treatment simply isn’t for everyone. While most patients can experience up to a 90% reduction in hair growth (and even permanent hair removal upon regular treatments), there are some factors that prevent a minority of patients from experiencing similar results.

So what are the reasons why laser hair treatment might not be working for you? These include:

  1. Hair type and color
  2. Your natural hair growth rate
  3. Undiagnosed hormonal imbalance
  4. Improper preparation before the treatment
  5. Your body part requires a different level of treatment
  6. Untrained practitioner
  7. Medications interfering with hair reduction
  8. Inadequate laser technology

Why Is Laser Hair Treatment Imperfect?

Laser hair treatment is a relatively new procedure, with treatments reaching as far back as the early 90s. Laser technology in itself has only been around since 1960; doctors and researchers have since then continuously improved and advanced the technology for various uses.

Read more: The History of Laser Hair Removal: When and How It Was Invented

There is also the issue of patients expecting a “one size fits all” treatment, which, when it comes to laser technology, just isn’t the case. Every person is unique, with countless factors defining their body type, their genes, and of course, their hair.

Laser hair treatment is a very precise procedure that demands two things: the ability to damage hair follicles beyond the point of further hair growth, and the ability to do this without damaging the outer layer of skin.

When laser hair treatments fail to create perfect results, there are several reasons why this may be the case. The most common reason has to do with the pigmentation of the skin and the hair, and the laser finding difficulty in differentiating the two.

Here are the reasons why your laser hair treatment might not be working:

1) Hair Type and Color

Hair type and hair color are the most important factors in determining whether laser hair removal will work on a patient or not. This is due to the way the procedure works.

During laser hair removal, the laser – intense beams of light zapped onto the skin – is set to target a certain pigmentation. The pigmentation of the hair follicles must be dark enough relative to the skin so that the laser can pinpoint the hair follicles and burn them.

If the hair follicles have too little pigmentation (white hair, light red hair, or light blonde hair), it will be difficult for the laser to properly target them. This also becomes an issue with patients with darker skin tones, as the hair and the skin might be too similar in color for the laser to be properly effective.

Hair type is also a factor to be considered. Hair that is rough and coarse will have more prominent hair follicles, while hair that is fine and smooth will have less distinct hair follicles. The ideal candidate is a patient with fair skin and dark, coarse hair. The further a patient is from the ideal laser hair removal profile, the more difficulty they may experience.

While recent advances in laser technology have helped to alleviate some of these pigmentation-related problems, it still remains a slight issue today.

2) Hair Growth Rate or Cycle

hair growth cycle vector image

The first thing that your laser hair removal practitioner should explain to you is the life cycle of the hair, and why exactly several treatments are necessary. Hair goes through three stages of growth:

  • The Growing Stage (Anagen)
  • The Regression Stage (Catagen)
  • The Shedding/Resting Stage (Telogen)

Laser hair removal can only target hair follicles that are in the first stage, the growing stage (source). Several treatments are necessary to effectively burn all the hair follicles that are missed in the other treatments, as they go in and out of the growing stage.

However, this isn’t a precise science that laser hair removal practitioners can always pinpoint correctly. While most people generally have similar hair growth rates or cycles, this can vary from person to person, and other factors can also affect a person’s hair growth rate. These can include the hair color, the hair density, the hair coarseness, and the area of the hair.

If your laser hair treatments are not spaced optimally relative to your hair’s growth cycles, then your laser treatments might not be affecting as many hair follicles as necessary for best results.

3) Hormonal Imbalance

Women with excessive body hair or facial hair might see laser hair removal as their go-to hair removal treatment. However, if you have too much hair, it might be a case of a hormonal imbalance that could cancel out laser hair removal results. If your hair growth is a result of hormonal imbalance, laser hair removal might not work at all for your excess facial and body hair.

If you believe that your excess hair might be related to hormonal imbalance, consider having a medical evaluation prior to your laser treatment. Some predictors of excess hair due to hormonal imbalance include sudden hair growth, obesity or acne problems, or a family history of hirsutism.

Some causes of excessive hair growth that can overcome laser hair removal results include:

  • Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome: PCOS is the most common condition related to excessive hair growth in women. Women experiencing PCOS also may have diabetes, weight loss difficulty, irregular menstruation, and acne.
  • Post menopause: Women in the post-menopausal stage have less estrogen and more testosterone, resulting in increased facial hair.
  • Family history: Women with a family history of hirsutism are likelier to experience excessive hair growth.

4) Improper Preparation Before Treatment

woman in a bikini sun tanning

For best results, it is essential that a patient follows proper preparation protocol before a laser hair removal treatment. Failing to do so will lead to less-than-ideal results, or even no changes at all. Some patients also make the mistake of only preparing properly before their first treatment, and then fail to prepare on the following treatments.

Here are the important things to remember before every treatment:

  • Shave: The area to be treated should ideally be clean of any hair. 1-2 days before your treatment, shave the entire area, ensuring that there is little to no hair remaining. This will allow the energy from the laser to be thoroughly absorbed into the hair follicle.
  • Do NOT Tweeze or Wax: This is a common mistake amongst patients. Tweezing or waxing 1-2 weeks before your first treatment (and between your next treatments) can setback your laser hair removal progress.

This is because tweezing or waxing your body or facial hair effectively removes the hair follicle. Laser hair removal only works when the hair follicle is intact and properly damaged by the laser; if the hair follicle is not present, it will simply grow back (source).

  • Avoid All Tanning: For best results, there has to be as much contrast as possible between the pigmentation of your hair and your skin. This means avoiding all tanning, including sunless tanners, for around a month prior to your treatment. And while you are undergoing a series of treatments, make sure to always wear sunscreen (SPF 50+) whenever you are exposed to the sun.

5) Your Body Part Requires a Different Level of Treatment

Different areas of the body respond differently to laser hair removal, which is why each area demands a different level of treatment. It is important that your practitioner is aware of these differences, as trying to apply the same level and number of treatments to all areas of the body will yield suboptimal results.

Here is how laser hair removal affects the different popular body parts:

FaceLegsUnderarmsBikini Area
Hair TypeLighter and thinner hair, with more hairs in the resting stageThicker and darker hairThinner hair, and not denseCoarse and dark hair
Number of SessionsFrequent sessions, about 6, as the hairs on the face respond quickly to laser treatmentsThick and dark hair responds effectively to laser treatment, so this can be done possibly just 3 sessions6-8 treatments, spaced about two months between eachHair here is also coarse and dark, but will need more sessions than legs (around 6-7), due to higher density of hair follicles
ResultsIt’s better to use laser hair removal for maintenance and grooming rather than complete removal for the face, as facial hair is the quickest to grow backYou can go 2-3 months between treatments for the legs, depending on the practitioner. After treatments, patients can expect 4 months without any hair growthSignificant improvement after about 3-4 sessions, but will continue to get lighter for the next few monthsNoticeable changes in 3-4 sessions, but will not result in complete hair removal. However, dense hair in bikini area will be notably thinned

6) Untrained Practitioner

While you might assume that everyone in the United States with training in laser hair removal is equally qualified, this isn’t always the case. Regulations for training requirements and qualifications vary by region and state.

While some areas may require stricter training and study of hair growth patterns, endocrinology, and dermatology to qualify as a laser hair removal practitioner, other areas have looser guidelines.

There have been several lawsuits in the past from patients who experienced burned skin and hair due to insufficiently trained practitioners. Some technicians may only know the bare foundational knowledge of laser hair removal technology, when it is essential that they understand the differences in laser devices, the various temperatures and their uses, and more.

Always make sure to background check your potential laser hair removal practitioner before you undergo an appointment. Look around the Internet for reviews from past clients and talk to the technician or doctor who will be serving you, to gauge their level of understanding and expertise.

7) Medications Interfering With Hair Reduction

woman taking a pill

There are certain medications that can interfere with your hair reduction results from laser hair treatments (source). These medications naturally cause facial and body hair growth:

  • Danazol
  • Phenytoin
  • Minoxidil
  • Cyclosporine
  •  DHEA
  • Testosterone
  • Anabolic steroids
  • Glucocorticoids

If you are taking any of the medications listed above (or similar medications), consult your doctor regarding the possibility of alternative medications before considering laser hair removal.

8) Inadequate Laser Technology

Laser hair removal technology has had several advancements in the last few years, so there are still some clinics and med spas that aren’t equipped with the latest devices on the market.

If you find yourself undergoing laser hair treatment at a facility with inadequate or outdated laser technology, there is a high chance you won’t experience the kind of results you are expecting.

Here are some ways the latest devices in laser technology stand out from older types and models:

  • Infrared and Nd:YAG lasers should now be able to partly treat patients with dark skin tones due to the usage of longer energy pulses or wavelengths, combined with lower laser settings and more skin protection cooling.
  • Cooling attachments are essential in the latest laser hair removal devices, as these make the treatment safer and more comfortable for all patients. In the past, there was a greater risk of swelling and burning skin.
  • A recent practice amongst some clinics and med spas is the use of a cryogen spray, which is applied to the patient’s skin between the zaps of laser pulses (source).

To be sure that your potential laser hair treatment practitioner is equipped with the latest devices in the industry, inquire about the points above, or any other practices that they use for their patients.

Ethos Spa: Laser Hair Removal You Can Trust

Get in touch with us at Ethos Spa today to learn more about laser hair removal services. Begin your journey to hairless skin with practitioners you can trust. We have helped countless patients burn away unwanted hair in all parts of the body.

Call us today for a free consultation, and learn why Ethos Spa is your ideal home for laser hair treatments.