There has been a surge in the development of medical uses for laser technology in the past couple of decades. One of the more popular medical procedures that makes use of this technology is the use of laser light for the removal of unwanted hair. By targeting the melanin in the hair follicle, the intense, focused light of the laser can destroy the follicle. Like all medical procedures, laser hair removal has some negative side effects that should be considered by patients prior to undergoing this treatment.
Laser hair removal utilizes highly developed and very delicate machines. Patients should understand that while this procedure is primarily cosmetic in nature, if performed by someone who is inexperienced or improperly trained, the results can be unsatisfactory or even quite painful. Patients should ask enough questions to be fully confident of the person who will be doing the procedure. Questions should include preparation, the procedure itself, post-procedure and side effects, including how exposure to the sun will affect this treatment. An experienced, board-certified dermatologist is typically the most qualified person to perform this procedure.
Prior to the Procedure
Sunlight can sensitize the skin and have detrimental effects on laser hair removal. If possible patients should protect themselves from sun exposure for several weeks prior to undergoing this procedure. If sun exposure is necessary, the area to be treated should be covered and sunscreen should be applied. However, the skin at the treatment area must be completely cleaned of sunscreen and any other lotions or chemicals prior to the procedure being performed.
Tanned skin is more susceptible to certain side effects associated with laser hair removal including blistering or discoloration of the skin at the treatment site. It is not recommended to have this type of procedure if the patient has a tan. Patients may allow the tan to fade and then proceed with laser hair removal treatment. Because of the damaging effects of the rays involved it is recommended that candidates for laser hair removal refrain from using tanning beds of any kind.
After the Procedure
Laser hair removal typically does not require medications or bandages after the procedure is done, although on rare occasions there may be some bleeding. The most common side effects are redness and swelling of the treated area, however this typically recedes within the first day. Some patients have reported stinging of the treated area that may last for one to two days. Occasionally the skin in the affected area may crust slightly for the first few hours. Also, stinging may occur for the first 24 to 48 hours. Some people experience a slight crusting of the skin which can be treated by applying a thin layer of petroleum jelly to the affected area.
Effects of Light
Laser hair removal can make the skin at the site of treatment sensitive to sunlight making it more susceptible to burning or blistering. This is especially true of patients with tanned skin or dark natural skin pigmentation. Patients are encouraged to apply sunblock with a minimum SPF rating of 25 for at least two weeks after undergoing laser hair removal therapy. Liberal application of moisturizers can help to minimize discomfort.