Background on the Safety of Laser Hair Removal
Over the years, there have been countless patients with concerns over the safety of laser hair removal. Some patients hear the word “laser” and immediately wonder, “does it increase risk of cancer?” or “can it cause damage to my organs?” The short answer is, no, laser hair removal does not cause cancer, nor does it cause any damage to organs.
According to the National Laser Institute, in 2018 over 1.1 million laser hair removal procedures were performed in America, landing this treatment in the top five among all minimally-invasive cosmetic procedures performed in the U.S. While laser hair removal is widely considered a safe procedure, there are some risks of side effects that can vary given a patient’s skin type, hair color, treatment plan and adherence to pre- and post-treatment care.
Potential Complications from Laser Hair Removal
The most common complication from laser hair removal is hyperpigmentation. Hyperpigmentation is the temporary darkening of the skin. This can occur in patients with lighter skin tones that have had sun exposure and their skin is tan.
Hyperpigmentation is less common in darker skin types. Hyperpigmentation is not a burn and it does not last. It usually resolves on its own over the course of several days. In rare instances it can last several months, but that is extremely rare.
We will not treat people whose immune systems are compromised due to use of various strong medications like those given post organ transplant or for cancer treatment. We take a medical history on each and every patient to look for any medications and/or past medical issues that may affect the laser hair removal process.
Expunging Myths of Laser Hair Removal Safety
It Doesn’t Damage Underarm Sweat Glands/Lymph Nodes
A common question that gets asked regarding laser hair removal for the underarm area is whether or not damage can be done to the sweat glands or lymph nodes. Hair follicles are located very superficially under the skin, just a few millimeters under the skin. Lymph nodes and sweat glands, however, are located much deeper and the lasers depth of penetration is too short to reach them.
No Studies Have Shown Laser Hair Removal Causes Cancer
Patients have also inquired if laser hair removal causes cancer. To date, there are no studies showing a cause and effect relationship between laser hair removal and skin cancer. There are Radiation Physics Societies that have websites indicating that laser hair removal is a perfectly safe procedure.
Laser Hair Removal Doesn’t Damage Reproductive Organs
Women have asked if having laser hair removal on the bikini area can damage reproductive organs. Again, the answer is no. While we prefer not to treat pregnant women; The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology published a paper indicating it is safe to have laser hair removal during pregnancy and that it will have no effect on the baby.
Is Laser Hair Removal Safe for Dark Skin?
In short, the answer to this question is yes. When administered by a trained medical professional, laser hair removal is safe for dark skin tones.
There have been a number of studies conducted showing that laser hair removal can be performed safely and efficaciously on dark skin types. However, a wide variety of medical lasers are in use for the removal of unwanted hair, and it’s important to know that not all laser technology is effective or safe for all types of skin. For patients who have dark skin and are considering laser hair removal, it is imperative that they consult a medical professional with the right laser and experience treating people with dark skin.
Why is Dark Skin an Issue for Lasers?
The fact is, laser hair removal works by targeting the pigment in the hair. Years ago that meant that people with dark skin and dark hair or those with blond and gray hair were not ideal candidates for laser hair removal. The lasers weren’t able to differentiate between the level of color of the skin versus the color of the hair.
In the early years of lasers, the ideal candidate was someone with dark hair and light skin. Because these lasers could not differentiate between the pigment in the skin and the pigment in the hair the risk for burns was exceptionally high and a dangerous proposition.
Important Factors for Treating Patients with Dark Skin
Experience and Training Matter
Progress has been made in the field of lasers with regard to hair removal for dark skin. Those with dark skin can now have their hair removed safely, but there are certain things to be aware of before beginning laser hair removal treatments to ensure optimal safety and success.
First, it’s important to make sure the treatment is administered by an experienced laser practitioner that is under direct supervision of a doctor. Many states, like Georgia, now require anyone operating a laser to have a laser practitioner license. Check with the state medical board to see if such requirements are in place. Experience is key, so it’s important to do research, read reviews, and have confidence that the professional has treated many different ethnicities without complications.
Having the Right Laser is Very Important
Currently the safest and most effective laser for performing laser hair removal on dark skin is the nd: YAG laser. This laser is a 1064nm wavelength. In a nutshell, the wavelength is long enough to bypass the color found in the skin and only looks for color once under the skin. So it affects the hair and not the skin. A trained medical professional will have the knowledge to adjust the settings of the laser properly to provide the best results from treatment.
Having a supervising physician is also important in the event the patient has an adverse reaction or complication. An experienced laser professional will understand the different needs associated with different skin types, hair types and textures, as well as health issues (for example, Pseudofolliculitis Barbae and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome). Patients can also find that these practices often repair the damage done by less-experienced practices. There are laser hair removal deals practically anywhere, but please use caution and do research, read reviews.
To learn more about laser hair removal and whether this treatment is a good fit, schedule a free consultation at WIFH.
Final Word on Laser Hair Removal Safety
There is no shortage of facilities offering laser hair removal. When deciding where to go for laser hair removal treatments, always know who will be performing the procedure, their experience and in the event there is an issue, who would be able to provide support.
Patients should be treated by a trained medical professional who has a Cosmetic Laser License from the Georgia Medical Board. These practitioners know what type of laser and settings to use on certain skin types, so that it is both safe and effective.
At WIFH, all of our medical professionals are licensed laser practitioners. Dr. Cox oversees each and every patient’s treatment and monitors his or her progress. He makes himself available to every patient in case there is ever a question or concern.
When researching laser hair removal services, it’s important that patients make sure to:
- work with a laser operator who is a licensed laser practitioner, medically trained, fully qualified, and has extensive laser hair removal experience.
- know who will be available to provide support if needed, in the event that the patient experiences an issue,
- understand what laser device is being used and that it is safe for the patient’s skin type.
- read reviews.