Choosing a laser can be confusing. Having a basic understanding of how lasers work, skin type and hair texture can help determine the best laser treatments to go for and where to receive on the body.
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a) What is a Nd:YAG laser and how does it work?
IPL stands for intense pulsed light. LASER is an acronym for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation. There is only one IPL device. All IPL devices function in the same way. Where there are multiple IPL devices they will only differ by brand name.
Lasers on the other are available in different types. The type of laser will determine how it works. Typically, they will operate on a different wavelength. Wavelengths are measured in nanometers (nm). The wavelength of a laser determines how deep the laser will penetrate the skin. The deeper a laser works within the skin, the safer, in theory, it will be on darker skin tones. The lasers light energy is less likely to be absorbed by the skin’s melanin.
Nd:YAG has a typical wavelength of 1064nm whereas Ruby, another type of laser, has a typical wavelength of 694nm. Operating 370nm closer to the skin’s surface, Ruby is not a safe laser for darker skin. Nd:Yag at 1064nm is much safer.
The deeper penetration of Nd:YAG energy source reduces interaction with pigment on the skin surface. This interaction can lead to burns and pigmentary changes. As a result, Nd:YAG works best on coarse, thick hairs. Hair naturally rooted deeper within the dermis of the skin. Besides a mild/moderate discomfort, Nd:YAG has very few drawbacks of which we’ll discuss later. \
b) Is laser hair removal painful?
Laser hair removal is typically not a pain-free treatment. The level of discomfort will differ between individuals. Marketing material that suggests otherwise is not based on fact. Discomfort will depend on an individual’s pain threshold, laser settings, skin type, the type of hair they have and how much hair they have.
Coarse hair is likely to result in the most discomfort. Laser settings may go up as our treatments progress but technically we should have less hair each time so discomfort should taper.
Laser is often described as a ‘flicking of a rubber band’. The visible effects following a laser treatment can include irritation bumps, swelling and slight redness may also be present. This is part of the healing process and not of much concern. The one thing of concern with laser is burns. A burn will be obvious and usually takes the shape of the laser attachment.
IPL can instigate much greater discomfort on dark skin. It is not uncommon to experience a burning sensation. IPL has a tendency to heat up the skin’s surface. As a result, IPL is turned down for fear of adverse reactions. This can result in a safe but highly ineffective treatment. The energy required to destroy the hair may be too great for our skin surface to tolerate.
Nd:YAG is a long-pulsed laser and unlike other lasers, on the market, it does not target melanin. It targets the blood supplied to the hair follicle to stop it from thriving. As a result, hair growth is significantly reduced. We can go up or down accordingly but more importantly, we can treat hair at optimal levels that cause destruction.
Nd:YAG is occasionally described as a painful laser. It is among the safest and most effective in deep skins 4-6. Laser isn’t required to hurt to confirm success. But, some devices that don’t cause any discomfort may not be set at optimal levels. If the device and settings are incorrect, poor results will be achieved.
c) How will I know if the treatment is Nd:YAG?
A simple answer to that question is to ask. You could mention, you’ve heard or read about Nd:YAG and think it’s a good choice for you. A good practitioner should give a brief explanation and make things clear.
Nd:YAG is not the only laser suitable for dark skin. Other lasers can work effectively. It depends on our skin type, the area we want to be treated and our hair texture. Skin types 4-6 are all considered dark/deep skin but a skin type 4 would be further tolerant to light-based therapies than a type 6.
Nd:YAG is absolutely unmatched for women who experience terminal excess hairs on the face. See – How to deal with unwanted facial and body hair.
Nd:YAG, Alexadrite, Diode, Ruby.. these all refer to laser technologies. A company will place its own branding on a specific device. For example, Candela GentleMax Pro offers Nd:YAG technology although it may not refer to that on client marketing. These things are generally not important to a client as much of it will not be understood. It’s down to the practitioner to advise and perform the most appropriate treatment. Choosing a professional with experience will give us our best result.
A telltale sign of Nd:YAG is the attachment, usually yellow, that sits on the skin. IPL tends to be rectangular in shape and placed directly onto the skin during treatment.
d) Should I always choose Nd:YAG for laser hair removal treatment?
If you are skin type 4-6 it’s one of the best lasers to choose. Because of the way it works, it’s considered safe and highly effective in deep skin. In saying that, it isn’t the only option. If you’ve read through this story, you’ll have some understanding of how the Nd:YAG operates. It works deep within the skin, attracting thick, coarse hairs that are deeply rooted. In contrast, lighter finer hair that we probably want to get rid of too can be harder to treat.
Let’s say we went for a full leg laser treatment with an Nd:YAG, it’s almost a given that we’ll experience a greater result on our lower legs. Upper leg or thigh hair, which some of us women get, may not respond as well to Nd:YAG.
Think upper lip hair, lower back, upper arms etc. This type of hair will respond better to a laser device that works closer to the surface of the skin. But remember, the closer it is to the surface, the more chance of interaction with skin pigment. Short pulsed lasers typically target the melanin in the hair and not the blood supply as with a long-pulsed Nd:YAG. We then get the differentiating between skin and hair pigment issue.
Many of the best laser devices in operation today come with dual technologies. This means the practitioner can select Nd:YAG for thick hairs and Diode or similar for finer hairs that are otherwise not responding well. This interchangeable way of working can be very successful if the desired results aren’t being achieved. So, if you’re thinking about a full body laser treatment, be aware of how different technologies may affect different hair types and textures. You’ll be in safe hands, with an experienced practitioner who understands laser technology and skin anatomy.
Laser is not permanent. You may hear some disagree but as professionals, we cannot market laser as permanent hair removal. It all boils down to us as individuals. We are all different. Some areas may see new growth and other areas may never see new growth again.
Long term results will also depend on why we have hair in particular places in the first place. Excess hair on the face in women can be difficult long term as it’s usually caused by hormonal imbalance or ‘sensitive’ hair follicles that we have no control over. Facial hair will almost definitely see new growth at some point.
Laser hair removal is hair reduction. Shaving may leave us hair-free for a day. Laser can leave us hair-free for a year or more. For facial hair in women, it can feel life-changing.
e) What about Super Hair Removal?
Alma pioneered SHR™, a proprietary technology now used in clinics around the world. Super Hair Removal utilizes a high repetition rate of short pulses delivered deep into the dermis, achieving high average power and therapeutically effective heat build-up, with virtually no pain.
Alongside numerous innovative technologies, Alma’s hair removal devices incorporate multiple laser wavelengths. The gold standard 810 diode and 755 Alexandrite wavelengths, both accepted as the preferred wavelengths of professionals, are available from a single device.https://www.almalasers.com/us/hair-removal/
You may have come across Soprano ICE which typically uses this technology. It is touted as pain-free but no laser is pain-free in reality. Super hair removal is not IPL and not quite a laser. It has its own thing going on. It is safe for treatment on most dark skin and works particularly well on leg and arm areas.
Because of this technologies ‘ pain-free’ advertising, it is often recommended for face and intimate regions. Naturally, these areas tend to experience the most discomfort. But if we look at the wavelengths… Alexandrite at 755mm is not very deep and questionable for use on dark skin. Diode at 810nm is deeper and can be used successfully on dark skin but preferred for finer hair.
Nd:YAG, which is not used for super hair removal, is 1080nm, the deepest and most effective on thick, coarse terminal hair. Face & intimate hair is likely to be some of the coarsest hair on our body. Nd:YAG will give the best and longest results. And despite the marketing, Laser hair removal in the intimate area will incur moderate to significant discomfort no matter the device. Such hormonal dependent areas are likely to see new growth in a shorter time.