The pros and cons of permanent hair removal
For many persons, removing unwanted hair is part of their daily life. Some persons do it for perceived hygienic reasons, some for cultural reasons due to perceived standards of beauty, and others because their job dictates that they have a clean shaven appearance. In the police and military, the clean shaven policy was first developed because the beard was thought to interfere with their gasmasks fitting tightly.
It is questionable whether this rule is still necessary in all police departments, since mandatory close shaving can cause razor bumps (pseudofolliculitisbarbae), especially in black individuals. This condition has caused tremendous physical disfigurement, pain, psycho-social problems, reduced self-esteem and complications such as infection, scarring and hyperpigmentation.
Many women have unwanted facial hair which some may see as affecting their appearance of femininity. Whatever the reason, hair removal is in great demand, as is the search for the most ideal method.
The available methods can be classified into temporary (short term) and permanent (long term) types. Permanent hair removal can be achieved if the hair follicle is destroyed. Temporary methods include shaving, plucking, waxing, threading, and chemical hair removal creams (depilatories). These temporary methods remove some or all of the hair while leaving the follicle intact.
Surgical, electrosurgical (electrolysis) and laser hair removal have the advantage of being methods of permanent hair removal. It should be noted that the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers any hair removal longer than six months permanent. Since not all follicles are destroyed with one single treatment with these methods, the terms 'long term hair removal' or 'permanent hair reduction' more appropriately describe what can be achieved.
In this article, we will focus on permanent hair removal. In a subsequent article we will examine temporary methods.
In surgical depilation, the skin containing the hair roots is surgically removed. Some recurrent hair growth is possible after the procedure. The complications of this procedure include scarring, keloids, wound breakdown and infection. It is therefore not a popular method, especially for individuals of African descent who have a higher risk of scarring.
Electrolysis involves the delivery of an electric current by the insertion of a needle into the hair follicle. It is highly therapist-dependant and many treatments are usually required. Some disadvantages include that it can be impractical, ineffective, painful and may cause bumps, scarring and hyperpigmentation.
Laser uses safe specific light waves to selectively target the pigment in hair and destroy the follicle, while leaving the skin intact. Side effects are not common with the right laser and settings, in qualified hands. Possible side effects include spots, temporary bumps, crusting, blistering and scarring. The NdYAG type of laser is safest in all skin types. With each laser treatment, 10 per cent to 30 per cent of hairs are removed, with hairs becoming thinner. An average of six treatments, four to six weeks apart may give over 80 per cent long term hair reduction. Thereafter, occasional maintenance treatments may be needed. Laser treatments have revolutionised hair removal, reduced razor bumps and positively changed lives.
• Dr Arusha Campbell-Chambers is a dermatologist and founder of Dermatology Solutions Skin Clinics & Medi-Spas; email: firstname.lastname@example.org