Looking back over history, hair removal has been a desire of men and women for eons. Even the Ancient Egyptians made tweezers out of seashells to remove body hair. Their methods may have been primitive, but the desire to rid oneself of unwanted body hair created its own demand for more sophisticated tools to accomplish the task. Back in those times, bare skin, or hairlessness, was a sign of wealth, social position, and/or power. This article is part two of a three-part series about the many uses of laser, and how it has impacted our world, as well as the hair loss/restoration industry.
Today’s most popular hair removal options include waxing, threading, shaving, electrolysis, and laser hair removal. The only two that successfully remove hair on a permanent basis are electrolysis and laser treatments.
In 1960, Theodore H. Maiman designed the first laser to destroy hair follicles. His design, called the Ruby laser was not efficient and the process was very slow. It was only able to focus on a couple of hair follicles at once. Due to this limitation, it made for a very long and tiresome process. In 1964, the first laser approved by the FDA was the YAG laser. It did reduce hair growth but wasn’t able to permanently remove hair.
In the 1970s, the Alexandrite laser was developed. Initially, it proved to be much safer but did not give off enough heat required to kill the hair follicle. The amount of time and treatments required for permanent results amounted to years. It used an Alexandrite crystal as the laser source. Considered a red light laser, it produces a 755nm wavelength of light in the infrared spectrum. The Alexandrite laser has been improved over time, and because of the shorter wavelength, it has been successfully used to remove hair on lighter skin tones (skin types I-IV). The Alexandrite laser is also made in the Q-switched mode. This means that the laser can produce a high-intensity beam that occurs in extremely short pulses.
How exactly does the Alexandrite laser work? Put simply, a wavelength of high energy light emanates from the laser and is converted to heat energy. The heat energy causes damage to the specific hair follicle. The actual process is called photothermolysis. This occurs when light is used to heat and destroy something.
In addition to permanent hair removal, there are many other uses for the Alexandrite laser. Several skin disorders are able to be treated, such as; vascular lesions (spider veins, thread veins, vascular birthmarks, etc.), age spots, freckles, flat pigmented birthmarks, tattoo removal, and to reduce wrinkles in photo-aged skin.
The Fitzpatrick Scale
A very important tool was created in 1975 by a Harvard dermatologist, Dr. Thomas B. Fitzpatrick. This tool, known as the Fitzpatrick photo typing scale, classifies human skin color. Still in use today, it makes it possible to determine who is actually a good candidate and will benefit from laser hair removal. Unfortunately, not all skin tones absorb laser heat the same and darker skin tones may result in damage to the skin. Eventually, in 1983, a laser was developed that utilized a pulse duration. By doing so, scientists were able to target specific hair follicles and avoid damage to the skin.
Tria Laser 4x
After almost 40 years, an efficient laser was developed to remove hair. In 2008, the first home laser hair removal system, the Tria® Laser 4x, was approved by the FDA. The Tria uses the same technology as the lasers used in professional clinics. People are now able to permanently remove unwanted hair without leaving their homes. In recent years, many additional laser hair removal machines have been developed and gone on to receive approval from the FDA. The main difference between the Tria and the others is that the Tria utilizes diode technology. The others use intense pulsed light (IPL).
The use of lasers in hair removal continues to evolve and improve. The cost of home treatments is becoming more reasonable, which enables a greater number of people to purchase their own laser hair removal devices. Be sure to keep an eye out for part three of this three-part series on lasers. In part three, we will take a deep dive into the use of low-level laser lite (LLLT) to help stimulate hair growth. You won’t want to miss it!