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What's the best laser hair treatment for Indian skin? This is how you can avoid complications

Nov 30, 2023

For many people, especially women, unwanted body hair growth can cause distress and self-consciousness. Shaving, waxing, and other hair removal techniques are time-consuming and give temporary results. As such, people often opt for laser hair reduction, a permanent solution which is pain-free and, if done properly, burn-free too.

Gone are the days when getting laser hair treatments meant confining oneself at home, protecting the skin from sun exposure, and avoiding makeup.

With rapid advancements in technology, laser hair treatments have become a piece of cake. Today, after a session, one canrun errands, apply makeup, or go straight to a party or work.

As a dermatologist, I have observed thatmen — particularly sportsmen or corporates who are hairy, sexually active, sweat more, or just self-conscious — opt for laser hair reduction for areas such as arms, underarms, and private parts. It could indeed be a better option than shaving. Laser hair treatment can give you smooth skin and reduce tanning, no hair follicles or ingrowths, and minimal skin pigmentation. It dramatically reduces sweating and body odour.

But there's an important difference between laser hair ‘reduction’ and ‘removal’. Let's unpack that first.

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It's important to note that laser hair treatment is a precise procedure that targets each follicle individually and can be customised to meet the patient's specific needs. However, there is no such thing as complete hair removal. Some companies may market it as such, but the reality is that hair reduction is the most that can be achieved. Only actively growing hair follicles respond to laser treatment. That is why multiple sessions, usually more than 15 to 20, are required to achieve optimal results. Fully visible hair can be reduced to vellus or ‘baby’ hair — colloquially called peach fuzz —which is not visible to the naked eye.

This may come as a surprise, but many clients don't even want complete hair removal. They prefer only a "clean up" around the margins of specified regions. Some just prefer hair thinning.

Various technologies can be used in laser treatment, depending on the type of hair. Diode laser is known for its deep penetration into the skin and ability to target hair follicles without injuring surrounding tissues. The concentrated beam of light emitted by the diode damages the follicle and limits future hair growth. It is best suited for Indian skin for most body areas.

Nd:YAG (short for neodymium-doped yttrium aluminium garnet) is used in laser hair reduction to safely and effectively target hair follicles in individuals with darker skin tones.

Intense Pulsed Light or IPL is a type of laser therapy in which light of varying wavelengths targets hair follicles. The melanin pigment absorbs the light, gets heated up, and destroys the hair follicle, thereby inhibiting future hair growth. It is good for those whose skin needs tightening as well.

Alexandrite laser treatment is most effective for individuals with fair to olive skin tones. It is often used for larger areas such as the legs or back. Whereas for people with lighter skin tones, ruby laser is the most effective. It also works well on smaller, more sensitive areas such as the face or underarms.

Indian skin is most responsive to diode laser, long-pulse Nd:YAG, and IPL laser. This is because most Indians have darker skin tones, with hair follicles connected to sweat glands. While most people can see satisfactory results in six to eight sessions, those with hormonal issues might have to wait longer.

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Common complications arising during laser hair treatment could be burns or life-long scarring. This can be due to technicians’ incompetence or poor equipment. That is why it is best to approach well-trained doctors with superior machinery. Some clients may be left disappointed with the result of the treatment — one cause may be a hormonal imbalance in the patient.

Nowadays, due to factors such as stress and pollution, hormonal imbalances in women have increased significantly. As a result, many women see hair growth on unusual areas such as the chin, areolas, and umbilicus.

While laser hair reduction is generally safe, some individuals, especially those with hormonal imbalances such as hypo/hyperthyroidism or PCOS, may experience increased hair growth. This is referred to as paradoxical hypertrichosis stimulation, a rare but significant complication of laser hair reduction. It can happen if the internal hormonal cause is not addressed or if the technician fails to cover the treatment area entirely. Therefore, it is important to get a complete examination of hormonal imbalance before undergoing this process.

Laser hair treatment should cover the entire region of the skin. Avoid picking on only those hairs that bother you at the moment. Hair growth on any area can increase with time. This can not only affect their appearance but can also lead to skin irritation and scarring, making it a serious concern. In such cases, laser hair reduction is not just an aesthetic treatment but a need of the hour. Waxing these areas can be painful and cause long-lasting scarring, which can impact a person's self-confidence. Therefore, opting for laser hair treatment is a practical and effective solution that not only reduces the hair but also prevents future hair growth, providing a permanent solution. Approach laser hair reduction with caution and get the treatment done by a trusted dermatologist.

Geriatric and post-menopausal womenwho have hair growth on the chin may apply eflornithine cream in addition to laser hair treatment. The cream works even without laser therapy. The compound in it loosens the hair follicle and works best on areas such as the face and areola.

Waxing the face is a big no, as it can cause skin stretching, sagging, and loosening, thereby accelerating ageing. Waxing does not really eliminate hair growth, as the sweat gland and hair follicle remain intact. You can opt for natural, fruit-based bleaches; shaving/trimming can be other options.

An important point must be noted: No laser treatment is effective on grey or white hair. If any doctor or salon claims otherwise, it's better to avoid their services. In India, many salons offer laser hair reduction with Chinese or Korean machines, but customers have ended up with problems like burns and no reduction in hair growth even after 20 sessions. To avoid such risks, it's always best to seek the services of a trusted dermatologist who uses good technology for laser hair reduction. As an aware consumer, it's important to ask for a patch test before undergoing the treatment, preferably on a sensitive area like the upper lip to determine the effectiveness of the treatment. Avoid doing the patch test on an area that's not sun-exposed, such as the underarms.

As with any cosmetic procedure, it is essential to weigh the pros and cons carefully before making a decision.

Dr Deepali Bhardwaj is a dermatologist, anti-allergy specialist, laser surgeon and internationally trained aesthetician. She tweets @dermatdoc. Views are personal.

(Edited by Humra Laeeq)

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