Nd: Yag Laser Hair Removal – Does it work?
The Nd:YAG laser is supposedly safe for use on patients with dark skin types - but does the laser work as it's claimed? We took a look at the scientific data to determine whether the laser is safe for darker skin types and how effective the laser is.
Traditionally, laser hair removal has been recommended only for those with light skin and dark hair.
This is because the laser works by sending a high intensity light beam of a specific wavelength to target the dark pigment, known as melanin, found in skin and also, in abundance, at the base of the hair surrounding the follicle. Melanin absorbs the light, producing heat, which in turn damages the hair follicle, causing the hair to fall out.
In subjects with light skin and dark hair, the contrast is at its greatest and it is easier for the laser to locate its target without causing damage to the surrounding tissue.
New and Improved Technology
Technological advances in this field and the desire to find a solution for subjects with darker skin have led to the development of the long-pulsed Nd:YAG (neodymium-doped yttrium aluminium garnet).
The Nd:YAG operates at a much higher wavelength than other lasers used for hair removal, which means that it has been FDA approved for use on individuals with tanned and ethnic skin.
The purpose of my research was to ascertain, using evidence from published clinical data, just how well the Nd:YAG laser works for:
- Subjects with darker skin
- All skin types
Let's take a look at the scientific data that is available surrounding the Nd:YAG laser:
Study 1 - Analysis of 200 Patients with type IV and V Skin
- The study was conducted to ascertain the safety and efficacy of using the Nd:YAG laser for hair reduction on dark skin, due to the increasing popularity of laser hair removal.
- The effect of increasing the gap between sessions on the long term efficacy of hair reduction was also evaluated.
- 200 female patients were treated with the long-pulsed Nd:YAG laser with inbuilt cool sapphire tip for unwanted hair facial hair.
- There were 6 treatment sessions in total with the gap between sessions being increased from the 2nd session.
- Of the 200 participants, 160 were skin type IV and 40 were skin type V.
- Breakdown of facial area treated:- Lower face = 64, chin or upper neck = 88, upper lip = 48.
- Notes were made of any side effects experienced at each session.
Results were recorded 6 months following last treatment: Improvement of more than 50% was recorded in 68.7% of lower face cases, 89.69% of chin cases and 59% of upper lip cases. No recorded worsening.
The study concluded that the “long-pulsed Nd:YAG is a very safe and effective means of hair reduction for skin types IV and V”.
It further concluded that “adequate fluences and increasing the gap between sessions from the 2nd session could be the key to achieving long term hair reduction with Nd:YAG laser.”
It is worth noting that the darkest skin type VI was not included in the study and I could find no mention of a control, to test the increasing gap between sessions theory.
Study 2 - Long-Pulsed 1064-nm Nd:YAG laser-assisted hair removal in all skin types
A number of different laser systems are on the market offering hair removal, however very little statistical data has been published to prove one system to be superior to any other in for all skin types.
The purpose of the study was to assess the long-pulsed 1064nm Nd:YAG laser with a contact cooling device for both safety and efficacy in hair removal relating to all skin types (Fitzpatrick 1 – V1).
- 36 adults with skin type 1 – V1, with dark, facial and non-facial hair
- A long-pulsed Nd:YAG laser (1064nm, fluence 30 – 60 J/cm2 with 10mm spot size) was used
- Pulse duration was directly correlated to skin type i.e. I/II received 10ms, III/IV received 20ms, and V/VI received 30ms.
- Three treatments were given to 36 skin sites, with 4 – 6 weeks between each.
- Evaluation was from photographic evidence and hair counts, obtained at the beginning, before each treatment and at 1, 3 and 6 months following the final treatment.
Mean hair reduction following 3rd treatment was observed as follows:
After 1 month
58% - 62%
66% - 69%
After 6 months
41% - 46%
48% - 53%
Side effects included mild/moderate pain during treatment, erythema and rarely, pigmentary alteration without scarring. All were transient and short-term.
The study concluded that the long-pulsed 1064-nm Nd:YAG laser with contact cooling is a safe and effective method of hair reduction in patients of all skin types.
Cautionary note: Although giving a good indication of efficacy, this study was conducted with a relatively small sample size, and the results have not stated how many subjects of each skin type were involved, in the abstract.
Study 3 - What is the Consumer View?
Finally and perhaps most importantly, I thought it would be good to see if any data was available to show how patients themselves felt about the results they had achieved.
To this end, I looked at the following study, entitled “Patient Satisfaction and Complications following Laser Hair Removal in Ethnic Skin”
To discover the level of patient satisfaction and side effects with long-pulsed Nd:YAG laser hair removal in individuals with dark-complexioned skin (Fitzpatrick skin type VI).
- Questionnaire given to patients between the age of 21 – 70
- All patients with Fitzpatrick skin type VI
- All had been treated with long-pulsed Nd:YAG for unwanted hair removal
- Questions asked were in relation to satisfaction and complications following treatment and was recorded on a linear analogue scale (LAS – not at all satisfied; 100 – extremely satisfied).
- Respondents: 41 female, 9 male - total 50
- All satisfied - mean score 84.2%
- All preferred laser hair removal to any other method
- 79.3% of patients who had received 6 or more treatments were removing hair less frequently than prior to treatment
- Hyperpigmentation in 3 patients laser for 3 - 10 days
- No hypopigmentation, blistering or scarring noted
- All 50 would recommend laser hair removal - mean score 91.5%
The study concluded that the level of patient satisfaction achieved with Nd:YAG laser assisted hair removal in terms of hair reduction is high, whilst causing minimal complications among subjects of colour.
Summary - Does Nd:YAG Laser Hair Removal Work?
To summarise, based on the studies outlined and many others available, the long-pulsed Nd:YAG laser is effective for long term hair reduction and can be used for all skin types.
There is one caveat to this, which is that it is of paramount importance that, prior to embarking on any treatment regime, you carry out thorough research and only use a reputable clinic.
In addition it is important that the individual administering treatment is medically trained, qualified and experienced in use of the relevant equipment.
- Long-pulsed 1064-nm Nd:YAG laser-assisted hair removal in all skin types.
- Patient satisfaction and complications following laser hair removal in ethnic skin.
- Long pulsed Nd:YAG laser with inbuilt cool sapphire tip for long term hair reduction on type- IV and V skin: a prospective analysis of 200 patients.