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Hair Removal Methods:
Laser Clinical Data Overview
- There are very few well-designed long-term laser hair removal
- Results vary widely and are not accurately predictable at
- Some laser hair removal consumers have permanent reduction
in the size and color of hairs.
- In some consumers, this is a dramatic improvement.
- This result is most likely in light-skinned, dark-haired
- Even "ideal" candidates do not always respond to
- Despite promotional claims, there is not enough published
comparative data to determine if one type of laser targeting
melanin is more effective than other types.
- Cooling the skin can reduce pain and side effects.
- Skin discoloration which can last several months can occur
in 1% to 10% of patients, with a higher likelihood in darker
- Consumers must avoid sun before and after treatment to reduce
the risk of discoloration.
- Consumers who have realistic expectations about laser hair
removal are often satisfied.
Why clinical data should be given the most weight
- Promotional material from manufacturers and practitioners
is often unreliable. As noted by pioneering laser researcher
Christian Raulin, M.D.: "Laser companies, tattoo and cosmetic
studios as well as self-proclaimed "laser institutes"
promote their work with full-page advertisements in newspapers
and lifestyle magazines... It is not uncommon for the industry
to advertise newly developed lasers for which the efficacy has
not been determined by means of objective, randomized trials.
When a laser is first marketed, there are thus no dependable
data available from studies; instead, physicians must rely upon
the often unfounded claims from the advertising literature."
- Personal experiences of consumers are unreliable.
While consumer experiences are very important in determining
what treatment is like and general satisfaction, it's very difficult
to assess quantitative effectiveness based on one or a few consumers.
As I discuss in my section on Vaniqa, one-third of patients using
a placebo were judged by physicians to have improvement or even
marked improvement, and that was under controlled clinical conditions.
There are simply too many variables between individuals to determine
if one person's result will predict your own results.
Consumers are better served when they follow the advice of
Whitney Tope, M.D. and Maria Hordinsky, M.D.: "Look for studies
incorporating rigorous design to produce believable data and conclusions."
Echoing Tope and Hordinsky, laser researcher Sharyn Laughlin
It appears that the laser industry and the clinical arena
of epilation are being driven by market forces and economic factors,
with a minimum of consideration given to evidence-based medicine.
The majority of clinical trials and peer-reviewed reports do
not address the issues of permanence or specific dose-response
relationships. . . .
There are few comparative data to allow physicians and their
patients to make rational choices... Patients deserve to know
the precise benefits and limitations of the particular system
to be used in relation to whether their expectation is for temporary
or permanent epilation. 
Dr. Raulin adds: "Well-founded scientific studies are
no longer the basis for the wide-spread use of lasers. Careful
clinical assessment cannot occur under such conditions, and the
absolute opposite of the Hippocratic Oath to do no damage can
easily be achieved." 
Rox Anderson, M.D., one of the pioneers in the field of laser
dermatology agrees "there is a big problem brewing":
Unfortunately, there is relatively little good, hypothesis-driven
research on lasers in dermatology. These studies are expensive
and slow to perform, analyze, present, and publish. The laser
companies are quick to promote their new devices and procedures,
even before efficacy and safety are well established, and before
a specific FDA clearance is given. . . .
When poorly researched before use on patients, cosmetic lasers
or anything else are no different than the infamous patent medicines
of the 19th century... But the problem lies mainly with us, the
professionals. We should simply refuse to believe infomercials
over peer-reviewed studies... Those industry salesmen who can't
support their claims well, should be tolerated only as village
idiots. In short, the patients are ours, and we should make better
patient care the only real bottom line. 
I have been pointing this out since 1995. Luckily, a few researchers
have continued to publish rigorous long-term studies.
Published clinical data by type
If you are researching a specific model of laser and don't
know what type it is, ask the practitioner or check
the list on my website. 
- Nd:YAG clinical data
- Ruby clinical data
- Alexandrite clinical data
- Diode clinical data
- Raulin C, Greve B, Raulin S. Ethical considerations concerning laser medicine.
Lasers in Surgery and Medicine 28:100-101, 2001.
- Tope WD, Hordinsky MK. A hair's breadth closer? Archives of Dermatology
- Laughlin SA, Dudley DK Long-term hair removal using a 3-millesecond
alexandrite laser. Journal of Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery
- Anderson RR. Response to "Letter to the Editor.''
Lasers in Surgery and Medicine 28:102, 2001.
Ms. James is a Chicago-based writer and consumer activist who
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This article was posted on May 13,