As a man approaching my mid-thirties, I’ve had hair show up uninvited in all kinds of undesirable places.
And from affordable home gizmos to several types of professional machine in salon environments, I’ve been zapped by various types of laser hair removal solutions in an attempt to get rid of it for good.
I’ve achieved varying degrees of success.
But for all its vagaries, the global laser hair removal industry is, um, growing. It’s worth $549.6million today and is expected to be worth a mind-blowing $3.4billion by 2026, according to market experts Acumen Research and Consulting.
It’s easy to see why: waxing, shaving or plucking are painful and, more importantly, short-term solutions.
Laser treatment, on the other hand, is long-term, requires low maintenance, and saves you time and money. And just after summer is the time to zap.
Here’s all you need to know…
How does laser hair removal work?
Laser hair removal works when the laser emits a light that’s absorbed by the pigment, or melanin, in the hair. This light energy is converted to heat that damages the hair-producing follicles in the skin and inhibits or delays future hair growth.
But according to the experts, sun exposure and laser hair removal don’t mix well at all, as the process makes the skin more susceptible to heat. That means it makes sense to begin the hair removal process after summer.
Now, before you begin your hair removal quest, you should know there are two fundamentally different types of lasers available: devices that can be used at home and salon-grade machines with a more powerful laser — and thus a higher heat hitting the follicle — which require a skilled clinician to operate them.
While off-the-shelf devices can be used on a weekly basis, professional models require booked appointments at around four to six weeks apart to give skin time to recover.
Does laser hair removal hurt?
Or should that be: is it safe? Both home and professional lasering devices should have FDA or CE approval but as professional ones are stronger, don’t be afraid to ask what your practitioner’s training is. Ideally, they should be registered with the General Medical Council, or voluntarily so with the local council or a government-approved register such as Save Face.
As to whether it hurts, that slightly depends — though you shouldn’t worry. While the blast of heat entering your hair follicle can feel like a sharp pinch, it’s bearable and not on the same level as tattooing.
It’s worth noting, however, that not everyone choosing to fry away their fuzz will achieve the same results. There are varying factors in play, like skin type, hair colour and hair thickness, for example.
Each effects the level of absorption and energy required to achieve follicle destruction. Take darker skin, which has a higher melanin content and therefore has a slimmer chance of the energy reaching the follicle; or fine or lighter hair, which has less melanin, so there’s less target for the energy, so higher energy is required.
What this means is that home lasering is less effective for people with these qualities, as skin expert Dr Ross Perry, of Cosmedics Skin Clinics in London, explains.
‘Home hair-removal devices will only work on a narrow range of hair and skin colours,’ he says. ‘This is because the lasers zero in on pigments in the hair follicle and are only effective when there’s a lot of contrast between skin and hair.
‘If you have dark skin or light hair, laser hair removal at home will rarely work because the dark pigment absorbs the laser and it can result in a burn. Many home lasers have sensors that block them from working on darker skin.’
The DIY options
Thanks to advances in technology, the latest home laser devices are now much more effective. Just don’t expect permanent results.
Among the best-rated home laser devices are Philips’ Lumea Prestige (£449, philips.co.uk) and Braun’s Silk Expert Pro 5 (£285, braunshop.co.uk). Having used both over the past six months, each offers a very similar laser removal experience but with varying features.
While the Philips device’s standout features include cordless operation with app connectivity for treatment tracking, Braun’s offering has a SensoAdapt skin sensor that automatically and continuously adapts to the skin type during use.
It won’t be long before you discover that neither device offers permanent hair removal, just a reduction in the thickness and frequency of growth. According to Dr Perry, that is due to home laser devices emitting less power.
‘Most products are safe to use but due to the lower power you’re not going to end up permanently hair-free, only reducing the amount of hair and thinning it,’ he says.
Time to bring in the professionals
Professional laser treatments promise to be more effective because they operate on a much higher heat frequency of 70 degrees, the required temperature to prevent regrowth of the hair. However, because skin begins to damage at 44 degrees, these salon devices are equipped with a clever skin-contact cooling system that keeps the skin surface cool while the laser energy is delivered deep in the follicle.
I tried both industry-leading lasers: ABC Lasers’ Soprano ICE (at the Beauty and Melody chain of clinics in London, beautyandmelody.co.uk) and Cocoon Medical’s Primelase laser (at the Nova Aesthetic Clinic in Greenwich, novaclinic.co.uk).
The Soprano ICE uses multiple laser wavelengths in order to treat a variety of skin and hair types, while the newer Primelase works at a higher pulse repetition frequency, meaning it’s able to do the same job but much faster.
While Soprano ICE made a big reduction in the growth and thickness of hairs on my back, after six months or so they continued to grow.
The Primelase treatment I have been receiving since has delivered the most impressive results — the hair I still have is much lighter and thinner, and I’m not even at the end of my six-series treatment yet. So what makes the Primelase so special?
‘The Primelase laser is able to reach the blood supply faster,’ says Silvia Solinas, manager at Nova Aesthetic Clinic. ‘In just one treatment patients will see a reduction of 20 per cent.’
With every single hair growing in a different cycle, you will need to have multiple treatments spaced a month apart for it to really work.
Solinas recommends at least six sessions for permanent results and starting your course of treatment during September or October, so you can have the full course during winter to give you time to get ready for the summer. So it goes without saying that tanning in between sessions is a no-no.
Verdict: Home or salon?
Depending on the gadget and body area, prices differ.
Six sessions of Primelase at Nova Aesthetic Clinic, for example, costs £638 for full back and shoulders (compared to £405 for my Soprano ICE treatment, though Nova is offering a 50% discount during September), or you can pick up a home device for under £300 that can be used on multiple areas yet won’t give you the same, permanent results.
Having tried both industry-leading lasers, I’m convinced going professional is the way to go — the results were way more impressive.
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