Have a hate-hate relationship with body hair? Here’s the lowdown on the most effective solution to date for removing hair permanently.
The topic of body hair has been a hotly debated feminist issue for more than four decades and remains one. There’s a movement, especially among millennials, of thumbing their noses, or rather their underarm and leg hair, at a society that they insist pressures women to remove all traces of body hair — to the point of shaming women when they don’t. Even celebs have jumped on board. Madonna was one of the first back in the ‘80s, then came Julia Roberts on a red-carpet reveal, and most recently, Miley Cyrus flashed furry pits for the press.
Then there’s the flip side: Those who simply don’t find it attractive and want to be rid of it. Period. And it’s still a highly popular choice. The wide array of hair removal options are a testament to that view. But that brings us to a different conundrum. How does one choose the most effective hair removal method?
There are the temporary options of depilatory creams, shaving, waxing —which offers the longest-lasting results of the temporary methods — and electrolysis which is supposed to be permanent but produces mixed results. For true permanent hair removal, laser treatment is the only effective solution available and not to be confused with IPL. “There are a lot of spas and salons who have been marketing themselves as doing laser hair removal, except they were actually using an Intense Pulse Light (IPL) technology,” explains Dr. Amanda Lau, co-founder and medical director of Skinfolio in West Vancouver’s Park Royal. Lau says that IPL is actually a photo facial that removes brown spots and is helpful for rosacea. “It is good technology but it isn’t a true laser technology.”
Melody Leskun, Clinic Manager for Ideal Image MedSpa in South Surrey, describes IPL as light therapy. “It will remove the hair temporarily, but it will come back,” she says. The laser is “going down to the blood supply and removing the hair follicle completely,” Leskun explains, which is why the hair removal is permanent.
The IPL process is not only temporary but is limited to people with very fair skin and ultra-dark hair. True laser technology such as Nd:YAG laser which Skinfolio uses, while Ideal Image uses both the Nd:YAG and [dio]laze lasers, can treat a wider range of skin tones and hair shades. “With that laser we’re able to hit a very specific target which is the hair follicle at a particular phase [of growth]. Only when the hairs are growing, are they receptive to the damage,” says Dr. Lau. Leskun adds that having both lasers allows them to “treat someone with fair skin and red hair to someone with very dark skin.”
But the hair needs to be both coarse and dark for the best results. Leskun observes that even fair-skinned, blonde people can have darker hair in various parts of their body, for instance the bikini line. To be certain that the treatment will be effective, Ideal Image has a consultation for each prospective client. “We have them meet with our RN. So, our RN will assess them and make sure that the hair is treatable because not all hair is treatable,” Leskun explains, noting that only registered nurses (RN) perform the treatments at Ideal Image not aestheticians.
As there can be only limited success treating grey, red and blonde hair with lasers, Ideal Image doesn’t consider those hues treatable. Dr. Lau admits that results for blonde and grey hair can vary but it depends on the individual. “A fair individual with fair hair can still be doing it [laser treatment] but it is just a little bit harder as their hair follicle is not as big a target for us. Coarser grey or fair hair is more challenging because it’s not picking up the energy that darker hair has,” she says. “For most hair that used to be black but is now grey, we can still go after that and it will stop some of it from growing back if it’s a true laser.”
Dr. Lau says if they manipulate where the energy is going and how deep it’s going they can get different results. She cites a setting on the laser machine that is effective for skin rejuvenation but can also affect fine facial hair. “There are settings that stimulate the collagen which I think will actually help with the peach fuzz because of the bandwidth we are using,” she explains. “It’s like a side effect from the collagen stimulation which is why we won’t do it for a man. If a man is looking for collagen stimulation, we try not to treat his beard area.”
One of the most common questions Leskun is asked is ‘does it hurt?’ “We used to say it was like a snap of a rubber band. It’s like a pop of pain but then as soon as the laser is not touching that area, the pain is gone,” she says. “It’s very manageable. I’m not going to say it’s pain-free and it depends on your pain threshold but it’s a very brief ping of pain and then it stops.”
Ideal Image also can suggest a numbing cream that clients can ask their doctor to prescribe if they’re concerned. The treatment will take six to 10 sessions (sometimes more), depending on the amount of hair and the area of the body for the hair removal and takes place over the course of months or even a year.
Neskun says once it’s determined the person is a good candidate, they can have the first treatment immediately if they’re free of sun exposure. “You need to wait six to eight weeks until the next treatment. There are different phases of hair growth,” she explains. “[If] a man with a full chest of hair gets a treatment, it’s not going to be gone when he leaves. That may be the misconception that some people have. They’re not leaving hair-free immediately. That hair will shed out over the next few weeks and we’ll wait for that next cycle of hair growth to come in … to be treated again.”
Dr. Lau emphasizes that people have to commit to coming in every month to achieve effective results. “They have to be diligent and come in when we’re catching all the new-hair growth,” she says.
In addition to laser hair removal being permanent, are there any other advantages? In her family medical practice, Dr. Lau has seen many patients with ingrown hairs from waxing and shaving. Both methods can also pose risk of infection. “Yes it [laser hair removal] costs more up front but you’re going to run into less risk over time. Every time you shave, every time you wax, you’ve opened up that follicle to the outside world. You’ve introduced abrasion and there’s potential for that to get infected.”
With safety not an issue — Skinfolio is also a physician-directed facility where all the staff is trained by Dr. Lau — it is the cost that deters many people from getting laser treatments. Both Ideal Image and Skinfolio have different payment options that can make the cost more manageable for an average budget.
For an area like a bikini line, each treatment can range from $100 to $150. Ideal Image often offers special promotions too and also has a guarantee on the services. Dr. Lau acknowledges it can seem expensive but offers that a lifetime of shaving and waxing isn’t cheap either and laser hair removal doesn’t have the consequences as other methods. She’s absolutely convinced of both its safety (in physician-directed spas) and its efficacy, and not just from a business perspective.