Laser beams make light work of hair reduction

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The LightSheer Duet is shown on April 24 in Dr. Fred Field’s office.

I didn’t realize I would so quickly be lying on a table with my armpits skyward. Yet there I was last week, preparing to be zapped for no real reason except to bring the laser hair reduction experience to your living room. Or wherever you’re reading at this moment.

I saw it on Facebook first, a news burst from Providence St. Mary Medical Center. Laser hair removal. At a doctor’s office. My surgeon’s office, to be exact.

Huh. Here is a guy with great skill in vascular surgery, held in high esteem in the medical community ... offering aesthetic help in being less hirsute.

He’s not the only one to dabble in some sort of body modification service, Dr. Fred Field explained. Dermatologists and ear, nose and throat specialists — “They all kind of dip in,” he said. “I won’t do Botox and skin rejuvenation, though. I have my limits.”

But he does have a fancy-schmancy laser doohickey in his office, in the “nice” room decked in contemporary art and a real designer-style rug. Well, a runner rug, but still, a far cry from the 1990s decor Fred seems to favor and that I urge him to change at every opportunity.

Laser hair removal isn’t new, and it isn’t actually removal, the industry now concedes. Turns out the body can grow new hair follicles to replace ones destroyed by laser energy, said Fred’s right-hand woman, Jolene Wells. “We call it hair reduction now.”

People want less hair on various body parts for various reasons. While women are the primary customers of the service — not a medical treatment, mind you, and not covered by insurance — with requests for smooth chins and upper lip areas, men also seek out hairlessness. A clean upper back, for instance, can be had for $150 per session.

Officially, total hair reduction takes five to eight trips to laser land, but lots of patients are satisfied with results after only two to three visits, Jolene and Fred said.

“Their lip and chin, though, people want that all gone,” Jolene noted.

Smaller areas, such as frying those pesky nose hairs, start at $25 a session. Cleavage starts at $75.

Cleavage? Some things I don’t want to think about.

The cell-destroying properties of laser won’t work for everyone. In particular, this is a case where blondes are not having more fun, Jolene said. “The laser is attracted to pigment.”

Basically, the beam of energy can “see” hair like we do. “The best candidates have very pale skin and very dark hair,” Fred said. Gray hair can go either way, depending on what the follicle is still producing in the way of pigment, but their office turns true blonds away. That doesn’t stop some from trying, however.

The discomfort of going under the gun is considered “painless” in industry advertising, but can cause mild discomfort, Jolene said. Some compare it to a rubber-band snap and some to a slight case of razor burn.

Here’s a quick primer of the big hairy deal. There are about 250,000 hair follicles in a square inch of skin, 100 or so alive at any one time. Of those, 20-30 are actively growing hair. A laser can only impact what is actually there. Sort of like Round-Up weed killer that works on the stuff above the ground. Hence, those multiple trips to the office.

As it passes through the skin, the laser damages the hair follicle with pulses of intense heat. If all goes well, that follicle is toast and unable to produce hair again.

There are some risks. Some people temporarily develop small blisters; sometimes the pigment color in the treated area changes for up to six months; some skin may swell right afterward; and there can be scarring on darker skin.

Jolene set me up on the table and went to work with the laser. Nowadays, instead of being this tiny square, um, nozzle (you like how technical I’m being?) emitting beams by the inch, the office uses a suction device attached to the laser. It basically suction-cups an area of skin and pulses away.

In less time than it takes me to drink a cup of coffee on a cold day when I am running late, Jolene was done. With some minor pulling sensation and a slight tingle in my legs, both armpits should now produce less hair for me to shave. If I wanted to seal the deal, so to speak, I could return another couple of times at $80 a pop and be hair-free.

Overall, laser hair reduction is not as cheap as shaving, but will come out less expensive and less uncomfortable than regular waxing.

At least until my body notices, and decides to develop some new follicles. Nature abhors a vacuum, it’s said.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at 509-526-8322 or sheilahagar@wwub.com.

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