Lasers and flash lamps: Not proven permanent

I'll start this laser hair removal appendix with the same advice that began this entire overview:

If you cannot afford to risk your time, money, or complexion on unproven laser hair removal, invest in the only proven permanent method: electrolysis.


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Special thanks

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Ted Molczan, whose consumer activism inspired me to take a hard look at laser hype. Ted has supplied me with a great deal of source material, analysis and insight. Without his efforts, this section would not have been possible. --AJ


Welcome to all!

If you came to this page from a search engine, welcome! I wrote this commercial-free information for other transsexual women like me, but all consumers can benefit from the transgendered community's experiences. When it comes to hair removal, we're the experts, believe me!

Important points are in purple, and vital information is in red.

Introduction

The urban legends surrounding laser and light-based hair removal require rebuttal whenever encountered. It's one of those too-good-to-be-true stories everyone wants to believe. There have been minimal improvements since the first laser was cleared for use in 1995, but there has yet to be a confirmed report of someone permanently removing male facial hair with laser treatments alone. The only thing proven lasting about laser hair removal is the rumor of its permanence.

Let me say I am not anti-laser. I am simply pro-results. I suspect some day they'll figure it out. But since there is not one single patient who has proven that their facial hair was permanently removed by laser hair removal alone, we should assume until we hear otherwise that it is not permanent. As you read this, there are numerous patients undergoing laser hair removal treatment. I have asked them to report back if they've had success, but so far, every report has been that it was not permanent.

The burden of proof is on laser companies. My position is as unbiased as possible: I simply require proof of permanent and safe results before recommending lasers. That is the only criterion I consider important.

Note: although technically one of the devices described here is not a laser, but a flash lamp, I generally refer to them collectively as lasers or laser companies for simplicity. The proper term that encompasses these processes is "light-based hair removal" or "phototricholysis."


Lasers now on the U.S. market

With the exception of the first hair removal laser marketed in the US, these devices have not been available long enough to determine if they are permanent, since all were rushed to market before they did adequate clinical testing. The unethical (and possibly illegal) marketing activities of these laser companies are starting to catch up with them as consumers and investors start began filing lawsuits against several companies in 1998. Please follow the link to the laser you are researching.

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Nd:YAG lasers

These first lasers, which came out in 1995, have been clinically proven to be temporary. Two weeks after FDA clearance, they were forced to drop ad claims of painless and long-term hair removal. On May 26, 1998, a class action complaint was filed against Thermolase in California by a dissatisfied client, claiming they "advertised SoftLight laser hair removal as long lasting with the knowledge that such treatments did not achieve that result." In summer, 1998, Thermolase announced the closing of its original Spa Thira in La Jolla, CA, along with others in affluent communities. Those rich folks ThermoLase targeted with their expensive experimental procedure decided there were better ways to spend a few thousand dollars than on a laser that worked only a little longer than a $75 wax job. The few remaining Thermolase spas have been folded into full-service Greenhouse spas.

Brand name:

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Ruby lasers

Four similar lasers using the same wavelength of light came into the market in mid-1997. They have been ordered by the U.S. government not to make claims of "permanent" or even "long-term" hair removal. See my analysis of the July 1998 ruby laser clinical data for more on this. On August 19, 1998, MEHL/Biophile's stock was taken off Nasdaq after a move by their investors to force involuntary bankruptcy.

Brand names:

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Alexandrite lasers

This laser has a wavelength between the temporary SoftLight and unproven rubies, and first came into the market in August, 1997. They have been ordered by the U.S. government not to make claims of "permanent" or even "long-term" hair removal.

Brand names:

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Flash lamps

This high intensity flash lamp came into the market in July, 1997. Unlike lasers, it uses full-spectrum light to target hairs. They have been ordered by the U.S. government not to make claims of "permanent" or even "long-term" hair removal. ESC was sued in October 1998 by investors who claimed ESC tipped off selected investors prior to announcing poor sales.

Brand names:

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Pulsed diode array lasers

This laser was cleared to market in late 1997. They have been ordered by the U.S. government not to make claims of "permanent" or even "long-term" hair removal.

Brand names:


Technical specifications [Compiled/written by Ted Molczan, ed. A.J.]

Lasers use a process called photothermolysis. The light waves are absorbed by some colors and not by others, causing the darker colors to heat up. That is why lasers do not work well on unpigmented hair (gray or blonde) or in people whose skin and hair color is too similar. In photothermolysis, the key parameters are fluence (energy area-density, in Joules/cm^2) and pulse-width (duration). Here are these values for all FDA-cleared hair removal lasers:

Brand 

Type

Wavelength

Fluence

Pulsewidth

Available

---

--

(nm)

(J/cm^2)

(ms)

(U.S.)

SoftLight

Nd:YAG

1064

2.5

0.00002

4/95

Chromos 694

ruby

694

5 - 20

0.85

3/97

EpiTouch

ruby

694

25 - 40

1.2

3/97

EpiLaser

ruby

694

10 - 40

3

3/97

LightSheer

ruby

694

10 - 40

3

5/98

Laseaway

ruby

694

25 - 40

1.2

6/97

StarLight

diode

800

10 - 40

5 - 30

12/97

LaserLite

diode

810

0.5 - 60

5 - 25

2Q99 (3)

GentleLASE alexandrite

755

10 - 50 (1)

3

7/98

EpiTouch alexandrite

680-760

-- --

12/97

Photogenica

alexandrite

755

25 - 40

5 - 20

8/97

EpiLight

flash lamp

590 -1200 (2)

30 - 65

2.5 - 5

7/97


Why did I write this?

Permanent hair removal is one of less than half a dozen things essential for most MTFs. Consumers or marketers who make unsubstantiated claims may be well-intentioned, but they do a disservice to our community by confusing the issue and causing people to make purchasing decisions based on false information.

It is vital that consumers understand as much as possible before committing to an experimental procedure.


You can help!

Most importantly, I hope you will be willing to contact me about your results with lasers. Your experiences will help everyone. As you can see above, I'm currently in contact with many transgendered women in clinical trials or paid treatment, and I hope you'll help, too.

I'm especially looking for transgendered women who attempt to remove their facial hair with lasers ONLY. I'd love to hear success stories about this method. Please contact me, and here's hoping for your success.


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Copyright 1998, Andrea James. All rights reserved.

Some sign images are from the Manual of Traffic Signs, by Richard C. Moeur.

(This page last updated December 5, 1998)