Have you decided to commit to a hair removal treatment plan? You might be surprised to know that there’s a little more involved than just scheduling your first appointment. Aside from finding the right aesthetic treatment provider (we have you covered with this guide to finding the right match for you), it’s also important to know that not all hair removal treatments are alike. To start, did you know that there are actually five main technologies for hair removal? To help make the process a little easier for you, we’ve rounded up your top hair removal treatment options, noting the ideal candidates for each. Browse this guide to get a feel for what might be your top choice before consulting with the right aesthetic treatment provider to design your custom hair removal treatment plan.
We’ll start with one little caveat about IPL hair removal treatments—they technically are not laser hair removal, though they are often grouped with laser treatments. IPL hair removal treatments are still light-based, though, and one of the most-requested hair removal treatments at that. The reason IPL isn’t considered laser is because these treatments utilize a spectrum of light, rather than a single targeted beam. IPL hair removal treatments work by delivering a pulse of energy (broad spectrum light) deep below the skin’s surface where it targets melanin in the hair follicles, transferring the energy to heat and destroying the follicle structure to prevent future hair growth. Because IPL utilizes broad spectrum light that targets melanin, these treatments are ideal for those with a light to medium skin tone (darker skin has more melanin and therefore poses a higher risk) and darker or coarser hair, including chest hair, neck hair, and even below the belt.
Argon lasers were the first official laser to hit the market for hair removal, but have since been replaced due to outdated technology and less than optimal results. This makes ruby lasers the oldest technology that’s still actively used for laser hair removal. Ruby lasers use a synthetic ruby crystal to deliver light energy deep below the skin’s surface in short wavelengths of less than 700 nm. These shorter wavelengths can increase the risk of melanin absorption in the skin and result in discoloration in the treatment area. For this reason, ruby lasers are best kept to those with very pale, even-toned skin (even freckles could be cause for concern) and dark hair. However, being older technology, ruby laser hair removal treatments are often used for promotional offers, making them a potentially more affordable option for those who are an ideal candidate. Of course, the cost savings certainly aren’t worth increasing your risk of skin discoloration, so be sure your treatment provider always performs a test patch on an inconspicuous area before committing to a full treatment session.
Alexandrite lasers deliver light energy through an alexandrite crystal to targeted hair follicles. This technology creates a longer beam of light at 755 nm, allowing for deeper penetration and more precise energy delivery. Some Alexandrite lasers offer a pulse mode for greater effectiveness in hair removal, particularly for larger treatment areas, like full legs or back, but are only considered safe for those with fairer skin tones.
A newer hair removal treatment option, Nd:YAG laser technologies deliver light energy through something called a neodymium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet (hence, Nd: YAG) at a longer wavelength (up to 1064 nm). Because of the longer wavelength, Nd:YAG laser hair removal treatments may be indicated for a wider range of skin tones, as the longer wavelengths allow the light to better target melanin in the hair follicles with less impact on the skin. In other words, this feature reduces the risk of discoloration (post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation) in those with darker skin. However, Nd:YAG lasers are known to be less effective on fine hair and therefore may require more treatment sessions.
Diode lasers are the current gold standard in laser hair removal in terms of both safety and efficacy. With features allowing for spot size selection alongside other customization controls, these treatments can make quick work of small and large treatment areas. As well, they are often equipped with cooling technologies that improve the comfort of the treatment while protecting the skin from discoloration. As treatments can be customized to meet your specific needs based on skin tone and hair color, this technology is a safer choice for those with darker skin—it’s even safe for tanned skin. While both Nd:YAG lasers and diode lasers can be used on darker skin, in a 2015 comparative study, diode laser hair removal treatments were found to be more effective than Nd:YAG treatments. For those with darker skin and hair, a 92% rate of hair growth reduction was reported after eight treatment sessions. Considering this, diode laser hair removal treatments may be the safest option for a larger variety of patients.
As an aside, all light-based hair removal treatments will require multiple sessions for optimal results, as both IPL and laser technology can only target hair follicles when they are in their growth (or anagen) phase. Generally speaking, the American Academy of Dermatology reports that on average, patients can expect a 10-25% reduction in current hair growth per laser or IPL hair removal treatment session.
While it’s certainly possible to pinpoint which treatment you might prefer based on the above information, the main takeaway is that each treatment technology has its ideal candidate. However, it’s important to talk to a trusted medical aesthetics expert to make sure you’re getting the right treatment option for both your skin type and your aesthetic goals before committing to anything. To discover if you’re an ideal candidate for popular IPL hair removal treatments or if a laser therapy such as diode laser hair removal treatments may be best for you, contact a certified treatment provider near you using the search field below.