There is no such thing as a single “best” laser for hair removal on all patients. The best laser for laser hair removal for each person really depends on his or her skin colour. Thus, multiple lasers exist for hair removal. Diﬀerent laser types, which emit distinct wavelengths of light, are better for treating diﬀerent skin types. There are a number of manufacturers that make these laser types:
- Alexandrite lasers. These emit laser light at 755 nm. These lasers work best on lighter skin. In my opinion, it has been the most impressive laser for hair removal for light to olive skin types.
- Diode Lasers. These emit light at a wavelength of 810 nm. Lighter skin types do well with this type of laser, as do some darker skin types.
- Nd: YAG lasers. These emit a 1064 nm wavelength. This laser is best for darker skin types, as the higher wavelength reaches deeper into the skin. This helps to avoid superﬁcial skin melanin, which pigments our skin.
- IPL or Intense Pulsed Light. It has been used for hair removal. Lasers emit light at one wavelength (like laser pointers in PowerPoint presentations). IPL machines produce a range of wavelengths (like the cone of light from a torch one sees in cartoons) and are not lasers. So, there is no such thing as an “IPL laser” or “IPL laser hair removal”- it’s a marketing ploy for businesses that have IPL machines and not hair removal lasers (the only exception to the rule are the few machines out there that have both lasers and IPL machines in them). Several studies have shown that IPL is not as eﬀective as dedicated hair removal lasers, and carry a higher risk of burns, blisters, and changes in pigment.
In my experience, the Alexandrite laser is the most eﬀective laser for removing hair on the lighter skin, whereas the Nd: YAG is the safest and best laser for more darkly pigmented skin. Remember, every laser has a “target.” For hair removal lasers, the goal is to selectively target the pigment (in other words colour) which in this case is called melanin found in hair follicles. Melanin is the reason why we have black or brown hair or shades in between. The hair follicles are living cells which make hair below the surface of the skin. When the melanin is selectively heated, this destroys the hair follicle cells. The lighter the hair, the less melanin the hair follicles will have in them. As a result, hair that is blonde, white or grey does not improve with laser hair removal. In my practice, I have actually seen some patients notice a decrease in lighter hairs, but it ’s the exception and not the rule.
Melanin is also present in skin and is the cause for dark skin and suntans. It is the same target that the hair removal laser is trying to reach in hair follicles. Hair removal lasers may target the melanin in the skin as well as in the hair follicles which sometimes results in burns, blisters, and change in skin pigmentation. As a result, lower settings and longer laser pulse times must be used for darker skin to avoid damage. As a consequence, more overall treatment sessions will usually be necessary.
Remember, laser hair removal is a medical procedure and you should always consult with a doctor who has extensive experience in lasers and laser hair removal. This will maximize your chances of a great result.
Thanks for reading!
Dr. Tim – Sydney Cosmetic Plastic Surgeon