Does Laser Hair Removal Cause Cancer?

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Non-Ionizing Radiation

  • Laser hair removal does not cause cancer because it uses non-ionizing radiation. The United States Department of Labor defines non-ionizing radiation as "a series of energy waves composed of oscillating electric and magnetic fields traveling at the speed of light." This type of radiation produces intense heat but does not cause cell mutation. In fact, non-ionizing radiation surrounds us every day. Sources of this type of radiation include ultraviolet light, visible light, power lines, cellular phones and many household appliances. The lasers used for hair removal produce much the same type of heat as an ordinary light bulb.

How Laser Hair Removal Works

  • Laser hair treatment uses laser light to create intense and focused heat. This heat is directed at hair follicles under the skin. Because hair follicles contain a dark pigment known as melanin, the heat generated by the laser is absorbed by the dark melanin. The intense heat destroys the hair follicle. The procedure has the highest success rate on people with dark hair and light skin. It does not work on hair that is gray, white, light red, very light brown or blonde. Although not appropriate for everyone, the procedure has a success rate of up to 90 percent on qualified patients. Several treatments may be needed in order to produce long or permanent periods of hairlessness.

Risks and Side Effects

  • Although laser hair removal does not cause cancer, it is not a completely risk-free procedure. Temporary scabbing and mild skin irritation are common side effects. Changes in hair regrowth, such as hair growing in lighter or hair growing in next to the treated area are also common. Laser hair removal can also cause acne flare-ups. Skin darkening and lightening can also occur and may be permanent. These conditions are called hyperpigmentation and hypopigmentation, respectively. Although rare, blisters, scars and changes in skin texture have also been reported. Skin that has been tanned either naturally or with home tanning products should not be treated as tanned skin is at an increased risk for side effects including blistering and skin color changing.

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