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Hair today, gone tomorrow: Dermatologists debunk common misconceptions about laser hair removal

ROSEMONT, Ill. (Nov. 26, 2018) — AAD warns consumers that laser hair removal can be dangerous in inexperienced hands

When performed by a doctor, laser hair removal is a safe, effective and permanent solution for removing unwanted face and body hair. This clinically tested, FDA-approved treatment has been around since the mid-1990s and is a very common procedure among young adults ages 20 to 45. However, the results don’t occur overnight, say dermatologists from the American Academy of Dermatology, and in inexperienced hands, laser hair removal can be dangerous. Performed improperly, the treatment can result in burns, permanent skin color changes and even scars. To reduce the risk of possible side effects and ensure an effective treatment, the AAD recommends that consumers only seek laser hair removal from a medical doctor who is extremely skilled in using lasers and has in-depth knowledge of the skin.

“Because of its popularity, laser hair removal might seem like a procedure that anyone can do, but in the wrong hands, it can cause serious skin damage,” says board-certified dermatologist Carolyn I. Jacob, MD, FAAD, an associate clinical instructor of dermatology at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. “Since it’s not without risks, it’s important for people seeking laser hair removal to make sure that the person treating them is a physician. It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the procedure, as a lot of misconceptions exist about what laser hair removal is and what it can and can’t do.”

To help separate fact from fiction, Dr. Jacob addresses the most common misconceptions about laser hair removal, as identified below:

  1. “It’s effective on blond, white, gray or red hair.” Although laser hair removal has come a long way since the mid-1990s, unfortunately, it won’t work on blonde, white, gray or red hair, as lasers that can effectively target light-colored hair haven’t been developed yet. If you have blonde, white, gray or red hair, be suspicious of any business that says it can perform laser hair removal on you.
  2. “If you have dark skin, you can’t have laser hair removal.” Today, laser hair removal can be performed on all skin types, as long as there is a contrast between your skin and hair color. However, since people with darker skin are more prone to burns and hyperpigmentation (dark marks), make sure the doctor treating you has experience performing laser hair removal on darker skin tones. In addition, ask what type of laser will be used, as there are specific lasers for people with darker skin tones, such as the Nd: YAG laser, which has a 1,064-nm wavelength.
  3. “Anyone can perform laser hair removal.” When performed by a board-certified dermatologist, laser hair removal is safe and effective, and potential side effects are rare. However, a common misconception is that anyone can perform laser hair removal, even those without a medical degree. As a result, dermatologists are seeing more and more patients visit them with complications, including burns, blisters, infections and skin lightening or darkening, after having their laser hair removal performed by an inexperienced provider. Unfortunately, these complications are sometimes permanent and result in scarring. To prevent complications, make sure your laser hair removal is performed by a board-certified dermatologist, who has the education, training and experience needed to provide the best cosmetic treatment available.
  4. “It’s not permanent.” To most people’s surprise, laser hair removal is permanent on most areas of the body, except for the face in women, due to hormones. This is because laser hair removal destroys the hair follicles for actively growing hair, and these follicles don’t regenerate in most body parts, like the underarms, bikini or lower legs. However, it can take six sessions or more to target all of the hair follicles while they’re in the growing stage. If the hair follicle isn’t in the growing stage or isn’t completely destroyed, the hair will continue to grow.
  5. “It’s for women only.” On the contrary, more men than ever before are seeking laser hair removal as a way to permanently eliminate unwanted hair, as well as issues like razor burn and ingrown hairs. Men receive treatment primarily on their faces, necks and backs, and many men turn to laser hair removal to help sculpt their beards and sideburns.
  6. “It hurts.” When performed by a board-certified dermatologist, laser hair removal should result in little to no discomfort and is much less painful than tweezing, waxing or getting a tattoo. However, the amount of pain a person feels is dependent on the area of the body they’re treating, as well as their pain tolerance. Patients are given the option of using a topical anesthetic before the treatment, and when this is used, laser hair removal feels like a light rubber band snapping against the skin.

“Although laser hair removal is very common, it’s important to remember that it’s a serious procedure that involves aiming a powerful laser beam at your hair follicle,” says Dr. Jacob. “To prevent complications, make sure your treatment is performed by a medical doctor who is extremely skilled in using lasers and has in-depth knowledge of the skin. If you experience any pain or discoloration after receiving laser hair removal, see a board-certified dermatologist right away.”

In recognition of National Healthy Skin Month, the AAD is reminding the public about how to find trustworthy sources of information on medical and cosmetic procedures, including laser hair removal. A board-certified dermatologist has the education, training and experience to provide the best possible medical, surgical and cosmetic treatment to patients. After earning a bachelor’s degree and medical degree, board-certified dermatologists must complete four additional years of education, including a one-year internship and three years of dermatology residency. Before seeking dermatologic care, the AAD recommends that everyone make sure their dermatologist is board-certified by the American Board of Dermatology, the American Osteopathic Association, or the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.

To find a board-certified dermatologist in your area, visit aad.org/findaderm.

For more information on laser hair removal, visit aad.org/laserhairremoval.

About the AAD
Headquartered in Rosemont, Ill., the American Academy of Dermatology, founded in 1938, is the largest, most influential, and most representative of all dermatologic associations. With a membership of more than 19,000 physicians worldwide, the AAD is committed to: advancing the diagnosis and medical, surgical and cosmetic treatment of the skin, hair and nails; advocating high standards in clinical practice, education, and research in dermatology; and supporting and enhancing patient care for a lifetime of healthier skin, hair and nails. For more information, contact the AAD at (888) 462-DERM (3376) or aad.org. Follow the AAD on Facebook (American Academy of Dermatology), Twitter (@AADskin), Instagram (@AADskin1), or YouTube (AcademyofDermatology).