Overview of the Different Types of Lasers Available and Who They’re Effective for (Clinical Research)
There are currently four types of lasers in use for hair removal: the Ruby, the Alexandrite, the Diode and the Nd: YAG. IPL treatment often comes under the same umbrella, but it is not technically a laser. We will however include IPL treatment in our overview of the different laser types below.
All of the current laser types have been proven to be more or less effective depending on skin type, hair type and area treated, and some are more prone to side effects than others.
Our aim with this overview is to provide a clear outline as to the details of each laser type and who they are effective for, based on different clinical studies listed below.
The Ruby laser is the most established laser of the list as it was the first to be approved for laser hair removal and has a proven rate of efficacy for hair removal. It is now being bypassed by the other, newer and more sophisticated laser types that are proving to be more effective on a wider array of subjects.
The Ruby works best on pale skin, no higher than II on the Fitzpatrick scale, and dark hair and has not proven to be effective on lighter hairs (blond, red or grey). It is also not advised to use the Ruby laser on darker skin due to the danger of scarring or long-term pigmentation issues.
The Ruby laser contains one huge advantage over others in that it contains a built-in cooling system which minimizes the risk of burning or other side effects, as well as reducing the stinging heat and pain often felt during laser treatment.
In addition to the cooling effect, the two second delay between each laser pulse really makes treatment with the Ruby into the least painful laser hair removal on the market.
However, the Ruby has a slower repetition rate than other types and has quite a small treatment area capacity. This means that most subjects will require more treatments to see long-term results than with some of the other laser types available.
While the Ruby has proven to have great long-term results on subjects with pale skin and dark hair ere are better laser treatments available these days.
The Alexandrite laser has a higher repetition rate than other lasers and a larger spot size capacity, so it’s an excellent choice for covering larger areas rapidly. It has also proven to have an excellent penetration rate, so the real benefit with the Alexandrite is that it can be used for large areas effectively without the need for more than average amount of treatments.
It has also been proven to be quite effective on thinner hairs than other lasers, which makes it a great choice for areas where hair isn’t too coarse. The downside to the rapidity of the penetration rate is that this can cause the treatment to be more painful than the Ruby laser for example.
The laser has also been known to cause some pigmentation changes on darker skin and is therefore only best used on skin types I-III. It is currently recommended up to IV, and but is often less effective than it is when used on pale skin.
The Alexandrite is therefore best used on dark hair and pale skin, and is an excellent choice when aiming to treat a larger area of the body.
Pulsed diode array (Near-Infrared)
The Diode laser is one of the newer lasers on the market and has a higher penetration rate, meaning that is bypasses the melanin the epidermis and aims straight for the dark matter in the hair follicle. This allows for a safer treatment as the upper levels of the skin are more protected against the laser, which subsequently means that this laser is safer for darker skins (although it is not recommended for use on skin types V and VI as there are not enough long-term studies to provide an accurate safety level).
While the Diode has been proven to have a safe and excellent results on skin types I to IV, with the relative newness there are not enough results available to analyze the long term results. The longest results we could find are around 18 months post treatment, with a little over 70% in hair reduction of the area treated.
The Diode works best on dark, coarse hair, and can cover larger areas quite efficiently, so it is a great choice for the back or bikini area. It is not as efficient on thinner, lighter hairs, and as with all laser types, does not work well at all on blond, red or grey hairs. In regards to side effects, even with the deeper penetration levels, there are still some risks of hyper pigmentation and scarring.
However, in most cases these prove to be temporary. There has been a higher risk of urticaria (appearance of hives) with the Diode, than with other laser types, and the deeper penetration can cause the treatment to be more painful.
The real pros of the Diode are that it allows for an efficient and safe treatment of darker skins and really works well on coarser hair. The Diode has also been linked to a faster recovery rate than other lasers.
Nd: YAG (Near-Infrared)
This is the newest laser type on the market and was specifically developed to be safe and efficient on tanned and darker skin types. The Nd: YAG has been cleared for use on all skin types, I-IV, and has been proven effective in reducing hair growth in all types, at least for the short term.
Due to how new this laser type is there are not any long-term efficacy studies available yet. With its deep penetration rate compared to other lasers, the Nd: YAG protects a darkly pigmented epidermis by bypassing it and going straight for the hair follicle.
While there is still a risk of burning and scarring, with the Nd: YAG the risks are the same for all skin types. Another advantage of the Nd: YAG is that it can be adjusted to a more shallow penetration rate (532 nm) to attack the lighter hairs nearer the surface of the skin, although this has not yet been proven to be highly effective yet.
It has not been proven to be effective on light hairs (blond, red or grey). As with the Diode laser type, the Nd: YAG’s higher frequency and penetration rate can make for a more painful treatment, although most patients admit that it is still tolerable.
The Nd: YAG is the most efficient and safest option for darker skin types.
Intense pulsed light
While similar in treatment, IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) treatments are not the same as laser treatments.
A laser uses monochromatic light rays of one set wavelength but IPL uses what is called “full spectrum light”, which means it sends out rays of different wavelengths at the same time. So while a laser is more targeted in its approach, IPL tends to cover larger areas faster, but with a less targeted approach.
While it is considered the safest type of semi-permanent hair removal on the market in terms of skin damage, it has not been proven to be as effective as laser, either on darker skin or in the long term.
IPL is only really effective on dark hair and skin types I and II. Although it has been cleared for use on all skin types, the results will most likely be less than desirable on any type above II. There are also no studies that prove that IPL is effective on light hairs, even though the machines can actually be set to attack these types of hairs.
Usually less costly than laser and also less painful but the final results with IPL treatments are not as good as they would be with a laser.
There is now a laser type that is suitable for all types of skin color in terms of safety and efficacy. While it is important to do one’s research before undertaking any type of treatment, it is also important to discuss how effective each type of laser may be on your skin and hair types with your physician, to determine the best options for your case.
- Laser hair removal
- Evidence-based review of hair removal using lasers and light sources
- Hair removal with the long pulsed Nd:YAG laser: a prospective study with one year follow-up
- Hair removal using the ruby laser: clinical efficacy in Fitzpatrick skin types I-V and histological changes in epidermal melanocytes
- Hair removal with the 3-msec alexandrite laser in patients with skin types IV-VI: efficacy, safety, and the role of topical corticosteroids in preventing side effects.
- Laser hair removal: long-term results with a 755 nm alexandrite laser.
- Ruby (694 nm) Laser Hair removal
- ARION - The Alexandrite Laser System with 755 nm for Fast and Effective Hair Removal
- Diode Laser Hair removal
- Nd Yag Laser Hair removal
- Laser Hair Removal Guide