Skin Reaction to Laser Hair Treatments

Chris Hart (Cristianosis Laser Clinic)


Issue 40
Winter 2007

Transition can be a very private time for many transwomen and for many clients preparation can begin months or even years before announcements are made to loved ones, friends and family. The ability to remove facial hair prior to transition is a very positive step forward, apart from the definite psychological advantages the practicality of living successfully in a female role makes it essential. Laser hair removal is considered by many to be the most efficient way of removing facial hair but what would you need to consider in respect of skin reactions to treatment?

Although for the majority of clients the redness after laser treatment lasts anything from an hour to a day or so for some clients the skin reaction can last longer. This can be due simply to the natural colour of the client's skin and heritage, exposure to the sun or in some instances photosensitivity of medicines.

The removal of hair with laser relies on a process called Selective Photothermolysis, which is the process of destroying a target beneath the surface of the skin whilst leaving the remaining tissue unharmed. The colour or melanin in the hair shaft is used to selectively absorb the laser light. The light energy is trapped in the hair shaft and the hair heats up. In a similar way to an element in a kettle being used to heat the water the hair shaft is being used to heat the follicle. Because this process relies on the light being absorbed in the melanin of the hair and not in the melanin in the skin the perfect treatment is performed on coarse black hair and white skin. In this instance almost all of the light is absorbed in the hair shaft and not in the surrounding skin. As a result although the skin feels warm and is usually slightly raised and red this effect usually diminishes within a few hours post treatment.

In instances where the client's skin is olive coloured for example where the client may be of Mediterranean descent the amount of melanin in the skin tissue is raised. This will results in a small amount of light being absorbed in the skin tissue and therefore a more pronounced skin reaction is to be expected. Depending on the individual this reaction can vary from generalised redness lasting a few days to dark marks, which can resemble cigarette burns. Because this reaction is caused by the light being absorbed in the surface layers of skin it does not result in long-lasting damage to the tissue. As the surface layers of skin are naturally exfoliated the marking disappears. Only a small proportion of the light is absorbed in the surface skin tissue enough light passes through to the hair shaft to make the treatment successful.

A similar skin reaction will result from treatment of sun-tanned skin or in instances where self-tanning products or make-up are present on the skin. Again the reaction will resolve naturally. Certain medicines (whether prescribed for example antibiotics or bought over the counter such as cold and flu remedies or herbal preparations) can cause the skin to react to light and in rare cases can resultin blistering of the skin. Therefore it is essential that you keep your therapist informed of any preparation that you take during the course of your treatment. Taking the Data Sheet, which can be found in all medicines to your therapist is beneficial. Some hormone therapy, for example the contraceptive pill and Premarin, can potentially result in photosensitivity of the skin. This does not necessarily mean that you can not have treatment just that your therapist will need to take account of this and you must be aware of the possible temporary side-effects (don't scheduled treatment when you've got a date). Thereis of course a difference between a skin reaction to treatment and a burn due to operator error and therefore it is vital that you have your treatment with a reputable company.

For most clients the benefit of long-term hair removal far outweighs the short-term side effects. Jackie was such a client. Jackie's coarse black facial hair was clearly causing her distress and she felt it had to be removed if she were to successfully transition and live in her chosen female gender role. Her olive skin had a natural tendency to hyper-pigmentation increasing her risk of exaggerated skin reaction to treatment. Immediately after treatment her skin was red and raised and by the next morning small brown marks would appear that slowly diminished over the following week. Although Jackie used total sun block the reaction was worse during the summer months as her skin naturally darkened. The results of the hair removal were so dramatic that Jackie knew that her determination would bring her what she wanted, a hair free complexion.

Cristianos has clinics in Manchester, London, Leeds and Lancashire. For more information or a free, no obligation consultation and test patch you can call 0800 0850661 or visit their web site on

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