Laser, The New Technology!

New laser treatments are a fast high-tech option that can reduce hair growth

Todd McInturf / The Detroit News

Diane Tadros of Richmond (...) was a perfect candidate for laser hair-removal treatments because of her fair skin and dark hair. People noticed the positive results.

Stories by Maureen McDonald Special to The Detroit News

Diane Tadros' son ran home from school in November crying. His buddies had told him his mom was really a man because she could grow a full beard like their dads.

The 34-year-old Richmond woman had been teased since puberty for having a condition that made hair grow profusely all over her body. She shaved twice a day and prayed for a long-lasting solution. People at shopping malls stopped and stared. Co-workers rubbed their beards and mocked her. She took her wedding pictures to a digital studio to have her 5 o'clock shadow removed. She seldom let her husband touch her face.

As Tadros sobbed about her son being teased, her husband, Salvi Tadros, suggested she use their credit card to get hair removal treatments. Without help, he worried she would never venture outside again.

Until the mid-'90s, electrolysis was her only option outside of shaving, waxing, depilation or tweezing. However, new lasers that can remove hair from large areas of skin efficiently with relatively little discomfort have revolutionized the hair removal industry.

Today more than 100 beauty salons, dermatology clinics and facial care centers in Metro Detroit offer laser treatments to remove hair. Only a handful of clinics existed three years ago, according to Diana Alexanian, president of the Electrolysis Association of Michigan and co-owner of BeautyLase Skin Salon and Spa in West Bloomfield Township.

The potential market is huge. Unwanted facial hair affects at least 22 million American women who remove it at least once a week. It is caused by heredity, hormones or prescription drugs, such as birth control pills with progestins or high blood pressure medication.

Lasers grow up

"Lasers were around in 1968, but it took another 20 years to develop equipment that wouldn't burn your skin when it singed the hair," says Wally Roberts, director of the Light Speed Hair Removal Institute in Naples, Fla.

In the '90s, lasers went from a 3-millimeter pulse that felt like an electric shock to a 100-millimeter that barely feels like a pinprick.

A laser emits a beam of invisible light about the size of a quarter that passes through the skin. Melanin, or pigment, in hair absorbs the light, which is transformed into heat that disables the hair follicle.

Laser hair removal works best on people who have dark hair and white skin because their hair easily absorbs the light without damaging their skin. Dark skin absorbs some of the light, which can cause burns. Treatments often take six months, because hair grows in stages. Each stage must be attacked and hair killed at the papilla, where new growth is generated.

Tadros, who has dark hair and fair skin, was an ideal candidate. However, when she decided to get treatments, her family had mixed feelings.

"My son was frightened I wouldn't be the same person after the treatment," she says. "Now he comes up, touches my face and tells me it feels so nice. People at church turn their heads and smile at me, telling me how good I look."

The change came with some discomfort. Although the laser wand has a cooling device to chill the skin like an ice cube before light comes out, it can be painful. "The first time it hurt so bad I had to have Diana (Alexanian) stop. My upper lip was the most sensitive because it has twice as many nerve endings as elsewhere," says Tadros, who came home with a mostly clean face and half a mustache. "The second treatment was much easier."

Unlike electrolysis, laser treatments do not permanently remove hair. However, the procedure delays growth much longer than shaving, waxing and depilation. And fewer sessions are required at a lower price.

For example, with electrolysis, Tadros could have had her facial hair removed at $60 an hour for about 200 sessions. Instead she is undergoing six laser sessions at $650 each. That's a difference of more than $8,000.

Not for everyone

Elnora Williams of Pontiac gets electrolysis treatments on her face once a month, but refuses to let her practitioner use a laser. "I heard the rays could harm African-American skin - I'm not going there," she says.

Newer laser models have a gentle, lower-energy setting for coarse hair and dark, sensitive skin, but reports of pigmentation changes, especially on dark skin, worry Williams.

Marcia Avis, director of Fosnaugh Skin & Beauty Clinic, a plastic surgery and facial center in Southfield, treats an increasing number of clients -two or three a month- who had a bad laser experience.

Avis performs skin peels on mild cases. Some people need several peels and special lotion to soothe the burning sensation. Almost nothing can be done for permanent changes in pigment except plastic surgery. This is extremely rare, Avis says. "Any trauma to the skin can cause long-term problems," she warns.

To avoid such problems as lasers set too high or allergic reaction, most practitioners do a test patch on a client's skin to assess the laser temperature setting, the degree of skin sensitivity and the after-effect. Clients come back after a week to see if the laser has altered skin color, or led to a rash or other maladies.

Though test patches have become a standard practice, it's not required. In fact, the state has no regulations regarding laser therapy.

Dermatologists and plastic surgeons have led the way in buying lasers at the urging of laser manufacturing reps who say these clinicians have solid experience with skin care. Electrologists have lobbied for inclusion, suggesting they have a long history of working with hair, heat and varied skin types.

"No other profession has the expertise working with hair follicles," says Roberts who offers expert testimony to numerous state legislatures.

Given the lack of regulation, reputation counts for much in this business. Experts recommend prospective clients get referrals from people who are pleased with their treatments in terms of comfort with the practitioner and satisfaction with results. They also should make sure their practitioner is certified in a full-week laser course from a reputable school, not a short course given by the manufacturer of the equipment.

Those steps will help ensure a good hair-razing experience.

Main methods for hair removal

Shaving and plucking are inexpensive. But some people suffer rashes or ingrown hairs. It often doesn't last more than a few days. Here are other options for hair removal.

* Waxing - Dipilatory creams and waxes are inexpensive. Just apply, let dry and rip off hair. Some people are allergic to the products. Waxing the upper lip runs about $15 and must be done once a month.

* Electrolysis - A needle sends an electrical current into the hair follicle, burning it at the root, a process performed by electrologists for the last 140 years. Removing one hair at a time is slow and painstaking, but it is recommended for eyebrows and certain hair and skin types that don't respond to laser. Permanent hair reduction above the lip runs $60 an hour. It may take 20 to 30 hours to remove all the stages of hair growth.

* Laser - Lasers emit a beam of invisible light that passes through the skin and is absorbed by melanin - the pigmentation - in hair. The light is transformed into heat, which disables hair follicles. The practitioner shaves the client first, marks the area to be treated with a light-sensitive pen, then treats with a laser. Nearly all equipment has a cooling apparatus that soothes the skin with each application. A laser treatment on the upper lip would run $125 for an hour session. It would take three to five visits to complete the job.

Where to go

More than 100 places around Metro Detroit offer laser hair removal, including health and beauty spas, dermatologists, plastic surgeons and electrologists. But all practitioners are not equal.

Though the state of Michigan does not license laser technicians, some have more training than others. Get referrals from people who are pleased with their treatments in terms of comfort with the practitioner and satisfaction with results. Make sure your practitioner is certified in a full-week laser course from a reputable school, not a short course given by the manufacturer of the equipment. The Electrolysis Association of Michigan says these are some of the Metro Detroit facilities with laser technicians who've been certified in a full-week laser course from a reputable school.

* BeautyLase Skin Salon & Spa, 6473 Farmington, West Bloomfield Township; (248) 865-2596.

* Gemesis, LLC, Laser Hair Removal & Skin Care Clinic, 28499 Orchard Lake, Farmington Hills; (248) 553-9821.

* Apiderm Skin Care Center, 2282 Livernois, Troy; (248) 528-2028.

* Vanish Electrolysis & Permanent Hair Removal, 22720 Woodward, Suite 102, Ferndale; (248) 336-0455.

* Absolute Laser & Esthetics, an independent company, works at New Faces SkinCare Center in Allen Park, Roseville and Lathrup Village. To schedule an appointment, call Jan Issom in Livonia at (877) 634-3899.

* Pure Laser Hair Removal, 42669 Garfield, Suite 329, Clinton Township; (810) 228-0999.

After a treatment ...

Treating your skin kindly - like it endured an operation - is necessary after laser treatments, according to Dr. Linda Stein, a dermatologist at Henry Ford West Bloomfield. Here are some pointers:

* Shield the affected area from any trauma for four or five days. Don't shave, jump in a chlorinated pool or scrape it during this time.

* Avoid sunlight or any tanning treatment at risk of burning or discoloration. Use an SPF 45 sunblock if you do need to go out of doors. Stay out of the sun for a month prior to treatment.

* Wash any crusting or blisters with gentle soap and water and apply topical antibiotic ointment. Treat the area gently.

* Apply makeup sparingly, as long as the skin is not broken.