Hair. Those who have it don’t want it. Those who don’t have it want it. Some time in the 1990s hair became ugly. I’m not talking about hair on the top of your head. I’m talking about the rest of the hair on your body. Certainly, unwanted hair has plagued women for centuries. More recently, men too seem bothered by it.
Hair shows up in the usual places: the underarms and the groin. But it also appears in places we don’t expect it: the nipples, the upper lip, even the chin in women; inside the ears and nose in men. Techniques of hair removal include plucking, waxing, bleaching, shaving, and electrolysis. In the 1990s, lasers that destroyed hair were invented. The early versions were not too powerful and resulted in only temporary hair removal. Newer, more powerful lasers chill the skin and kill the hair permanently.
These lasers were breakthrough products. Some of the most satisfied patients I have are women who have had beards removed, or who are rid of chronic ingrown hairs in the bikini area. Over 1.5 million people underwent laser hair removal in 2005.
How Lasers Work
Lasers split light into one precise color. Think of light coming in your window, hitting your chandelier, and causing a rainbow of colors to be projected onto the wall. Now capture just one of those colors and intensify it millions of times. That is basically a laser. The laser light passes through substances that are not the correct color and is completely absorbed by one specific color. Scientists and doctors call this substance a chromophore—the target for a specific laser.
When intensified light, specifically tuned for, say, dark brown color, hits the hair, it superheats and vaporizes it. The hair acts as a fuse, leading all the way to the hair follicle. When the heat absorbed by the hair hits the follicle, it fries and permanently destroys it. If you think about it, laser hair removal is strikingly like electrolysis. In that process, a metal electrode is placed down the hair shaft until the follicle is reached. Electric current is then passed along the wire, frying the follicle.
Laser hair removal is much more efficient than electrolysis. In a half second, a 9 × 9 millimeter square of skin is treated. All the growing hairs within this square are destroyed. The process is relatively independent of the skills of the practitioner; the laser finds the hairs.
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