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Categories > Skin and Scalp Care > Hair and scalp health

Zapping away unwanted hair
A wave of the magic wand
Will it last forever?

Not just cosmetic
Not just cosmetic

Laser hair removal is a boon to women with hirsutism, a hormonal disorder that triggers male-like hair growth.

In most women, hirsutism is genetic. It commonly develops during childbearing years and is caused by an overproduction of androgens, the “masculine” hormone present in both sexes.

The disorder is often accompanied by acne, deepening voice and loss of breast tissue. When hirsutism is present during menstrual irregularities, it’s a marker for polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and ovarian or adrenal tumors. Hirsutism may have a serious underlying cause that requires specialized therapy to correct. However, almost all cases of hirsutism respond to treatment once its cause is discovered. See your doctor if you believe your unwanted hair is more than a cosmetic annoyance.

Women who’ve tried everything from tweezing to waxing to electrolysis to remove unwelcome hair now have another option: lasers that can zap unwanted hair away.

These tools are highly effective at removing irritating and oftentimes embarrassing facial, chest or back hair. Large areas of skin as well as delicate ones, like the upper lip or eyebrows, can be treated with lasers.

Bear in mind that laser hair removal procedures, approved only a few years ago by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, are pricey and usually not covered by medical insurance. However, they are today’s most effective means for hair removal.

A wave of the magic wand

Dermatologists use several kinds of lasers to remove unwanted hair. The treatments are quick and safe, and though occasionally uncomfortable, they are not painful. Their greatest advantage over traditional therapies is allowing doctors to treat large areas of skin in a single session.

The procedure requires the affected skin to be shaved 24 hours before laser therapy begins. Depending on the kind of laser used—they sport sci-fi names like “long-pulsed ruby laser” and “Q-switched carbon suspension laser”—the dermatologist first coats the shaved skin in a carbon-based or other chemical solution. Then he or she passes a low-energy laser wand over the shaved areas. The solution directs the laser light into the hair follicles. The hot laser light damages the follicle cells, delaying or preventing the hair from growing back.

Will it last forever?

For all its whiz-bang appeal, laser hair removal does not always remove hair permanently—although one treatment can last for months before hair grows back. In addition, some areas of the body respond better than others to laser therapy.

What’s more, the treatment works best on fair-skinned, dark-haired patients. Women with blond or white hair may not benefit because their hair doesn’t provide enough contrast for the laser’s computer to “read.” And no matter what color your hair, blotching, redness or light or dark areas may appear on your skin afterward.

Be sure you thoroughly discuss laser hair removal with a qualified, experienced dermatologist before undergoing the procedure. And take heart: If laser-zapping your unwanted hair isn’t in your immediate future, your razor, tweezers, creams and bleach will still do the job.