Hair Raising - Flare Magazine - April 2003
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Hair Raising

By Muriel Friday

Permanently fuzz-free legs? Muriel Friday says “Hit me with your laser beam.”

By now, those of us on the quest for hairfree legs, bikini lines, etc., have read at least a dozen articles on laser hair removal.

In the beginning, it was touted as a wunderkind of a process, with great results. It was messy though, with tar-like black stuff and gigantic gun-like laser tools that could scare a werewolf back to waxing. But now, the technology of lasers, just like almost everything else in the techie world, has advanced at light-speed. Bye-bye, black goopy stuff; hello, clear cool gel. So long, laser weapons – enter the LightSheer Diode Laser.

But let’s get back to the laser’s raison d’être: hair removal. What we thought about eradicating the fuzz has been corrected. Now, dermatologists and other laser hair-removal practitioners (such as estheticians and laser technicians at hospitals) are claiming permanent hair reduction, rather than permanent hair removal, over (on average) 5–6 treatments.

OK, I think, if I can get rid of any of the nasty stuff for good – particularly in those lovely bikini areas – I’m in. Luckily, my editor has an excellent contact for the procedure: dermatologist Dr. Lisa Kellett, director of cosmetic laser dermatology and a partner at SpaMedica in Toronto. I book the first possible appointment, but with a little hesitation. Sure, I’ve had the odd massage, but I’m not one to particularly appreciate strange hands or eyes on me – let’s just say I’m modest – especially while half naked and entering completely new territory.

Once at SpaMedica, however, I am put at ease almost immediately. The tastefully appointed waiting room sports a large black slab water fountain that helps impart a calm feeling, as do the cheery registered nurses and the receptionist who greet patients. I’m good so far. Then, Dr. Kellett arrives. Whatever doubts I have left fly out the window. Dr. Kellett is young and pretty, with skin that makes you want to say, “I’ll have what she’s having.”

Dr. Kellett is also one of the leading laser practitioners in this country and is a consultant to many of the top laser-equipment companies in the world. There’s more: she’s a University of Toronto grad, has studied cosmetic laser skin care at Harvard and consulted in dermatology for the Blue Jays, ensuring that the boys of summer remained trouble-free by spot-checking for skin cancer.

As we start the consultation, Dr. Kellett points out that some things still hold true for optimum results: fair skin with dark hair is still the best candidate for success, she explains, noting that, luckily, I fall into this category. (If you have been assessed as having skin too dark or hair too fair for the laser, then a different type of hair-removal treatment, the hot-off-the-assembly-line Aurora, which uses radio frequency in combination with optical energy, may be recommended.)

The LightSheer laser produces a beam of highly concentrated light that is then absorbed by the pigment located in hair follicles (the laser is attracted to the darker pigment, or melanin, not the lighter surrounding skin). In what feels like a series of concentrated pinpricks, the laser beam is essentially destroying or damaging the hair follicle in an effort to eliminate or slow down the hair’s re-growth. Until now, most lasers worked in this way. What sets the LightSheer apart is its “contact-cooling handpiece,” which protects the skin from overheating, or laser-burn, as I like to call it. According to Dr. Kellett, the results from this laser tool are remarkable. “It’s fast and effective,” she promises. Because of its compact size, it can be used on almost any area of the body, eyebrows notwithstanding, and gets much closer to the skin’s surface and the hair follicle than its predecessor. The first treatment is a breeze, with barely any discomfort and just a little bit of redness on some parts of my legs. Dr. Kellett inspects her handiwork and announces, “You’re going to do fine, with good results.”

Five sessions later—patients are scheduled, depending on the phases of their hair growth, every 6–12 weeks for at least five treatments—and I’m definitely seeing a marked reduction and even some bald patches. Beam me up.

The Laser Lowdown: Sounds easy, right? Well, before you go, there are a few things you should know.

Prep Work

  • The area you want treated must be shaved -yes, I said shaved – at least two days prior to the laser session to allow a visible stubble. If you’re a waxer, you should stop at least four weeks before your laser treatment.
  • Bleaching creams should not be used for two weeks prior.
  • No suntanning or self-tanners allowed. Your tan should be completely faded (at least six weeks) and self-tanners should be discontinued at least two weeks prior.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing to the appointment so you don’t irritate your skin after the treatment. If you’re having a specific area treated, such as the bikini line, you can wear your bathing suit bottom or your skimpiest thong. They can even laser to achieve that take-it-almost-all-off effect, leaving just a thin strip of hair that waxers know as the Brazilian. (Most places can also provide you with disposable paper undies.)

During

  • You’re asked to slip off any unnecessary clothes, get into a gown and lie down on the treatment table.
  • You will be asked to wear protective eye goggles.
  • A cool clear gel is applied to the areas of treatment to help keep the skin cool and to facilitate the movement of the laser over the skin.
  • When the zapping starts, the nurse or practitioner will ask how it feels. If the feeling is not too intense, they may choose to up the laser’s strength to determine the optimal level of treatment.
  • If you find you’re extremely sensitive, you can try a topical anesthetic, such as Emla. Dr. Kellett has developed her own anesthetic cream, Num-it, which does not impede the effectiveness of the laser. Either cream can be applied from one to one and a half hours prior.
  • You may also feel a slight pressure from the tip of the laser on your skin.
  • If you smell something burning, don’t panic. It’s the laser melting away a particularly hairy follicle.
  • Depending on the area, a treatment session will take anywhere from 15–45 minutes.

After

  • The gel is gently removed with a tongue depressor.
  • The nurse will examine the treated areas and recommend any necessary after-treatments. You may see some red spots or minor swelling. An antibiotic ointment such as Polysporin or ice packs may be used if the swelling or redness doesn’t subside after a few hours.
  • You may experience itchiness. “That’s just your natural histamines kicking in. It’s a common but harmless reaction,” says Dr. Kellett. Try Aveeno or any colloidal oatmeal cream or bath soak. If it gets too intense, Dr. Kellett recommends trying a nonprescription allergy medication, such as Claritin or Allegra.
  • You can shave as needed while you wait for your next treatment.
  • Again, no sun tanning or self-tanner allowed and remember to wear sunblock! Dr. Kellett recommends SPF 45.

Why It Doesn’t Work With Just One Zap
Not all the hair on your body is actively growing at the same time. Each follicle goes through three phases: anagen, the hair’s active growth phase, and the only time the laser can disable the follicle, due to the hair’s increased melanin; catagen, the short regression phase, where the hair stops growing and the follicle shrinks beyond the laser’s view; and telogen, the resting phase, where the old hair may fall out in preparation for new growth. Because the telogen phase can last many months, only 50–90 percent of hairs are in the anagen phase at any time, depending on the body part.

A Hairy Predicament
A final word: do your homework. The safest bet is to choose a laser wielder who is a dermatologist or a registered nurse who is practicing under the watchful eye of a dermo (as is the case at SpaMedica). If you have birthmarks, moles or freckles, it’s essential that there is someone qualified to inspect them, should a problem arise, and to monitor them during the course of the treatments. Most moles, however, remain unchanged through the procedure. Costs may vary and are based on the individual. SpaMedica charges $199 per session for small areas (underarms, upper lip) to $699 for large areas (legs, back).

The Future Is Now
With rapidly moving technology, it wasn’t surprising that, around my fifth treatment, Dr. Kellett introduced me to a new laser tool, the Aurora (I said she was on the cutting edge, didn’t I?). Dr. Kellett is as excited about this laser as she was when LightSheer entered the market. The kicker? The Aurora is suitable for all hair and skin types, as long as the hair has a trace of pigment—even blond-blond. It’s also safe to use on the pigments of dark skin.

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