What is the best treatment to remove underarm hair?

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Unwanted underarm hair has always been a concern, especially among ladies. Apart from the age-old methods of shaving, trimming, waxing, plucking and application of depilatory creams, which are largely temporary measures, the main treatment focus nowadays is on semi-permanent hair removal with light-based devices. Temporary hair removal methods remove the visible hair shaft, but leaves the hair follicles and hair roots intact. Semi-permanent hair removal methods destroys the hair follicles and hair roots, thus reducing the hair growth.

Let's focus on the semi-permanent methods: 

Both IPL and laser hair removal work on the same principle. They emit light energy, which is absorbed by the pigmentation in hair, causing it to heat up and damaging or destroying the hair follicle. The difference between the two, is the type of light energy used. IPL utilizes a source of broad-spectrum visible light, which is then controlled by filters to remove the unsuitable wavelengths, leaving wavelengths that target the melanin pigment present in hair. Lasers, on the other hand, emit a single wavelength of light energy targeted at melanin. This energy is thus more focused and precise, without causing damage to surrounding tissues.

Bombarded with constant advertisements of cheaply priced IPL hair removal, it does seem tempting to many. True, IPL hair removal does work for many, but for a few, it may not be the ideal treatment. The utmost important factor to consider when deciding between which light-based treatments to choose from, is safety. If you are of a darker skin type, laser hair removal is safe than IPL. There are also various laser systems used for hair removal. In our local context, the long-pulsed Nd:YAG (1064nm wavelength) is a safe choice, even for darker skin types. Mild side effects can still occur, such as swelling and hyperpigmentation; but still definitely safer than using IPL, which can result in burns.

The secondary concerns when deciding between IPL and laser hair removal would then be the number of sessions needed. Because of the higher energy and more focused treatment of laser hair removal machines, the number of sessions needed are fewer. For underarms, 4-6 sessions of laser hair removal treatments can achieve ideal results. IPL, on the other hand, can achieve beneficial results, but in a larger number of sessions. This may be an important factor for those with busy schedules.

With either IPL or laser hair removal treatments, the treated area may not be completely devoid of hair. Any remaining hairs are usually sparse, lighter in colour and finer in texture. This usually doesn't bother most of my patients any more, but some still do return intermittently for treatment of those few residual hairs.

Hope I have helped to shed some light in your decision-making process.

Underarm hair removal is a routine for most women, and increasingly, for men as well. Methods can be divided into temporary or semi-permanent. Temporary methods such as plucking, waxing, shaving, epilation, depilation creams etc removes the visible hair shaft and leaves the hair bulge and hair bulb intact. Semi-permanent methods such as intensed pulse light (IPL) and lasers disrupts the hair bulge and hair bulb. This disruption results in reduced hair growth. Underarm hair removal treatments nowadays are largely focused on semi-permanent methods. It is good to note that use of IPL or laser does not mean complete removal of hair. After the appropriate number of sessions, the treated area may have small amount of residual hairs, but they are usually sparse, finer and lighter in colour.

IPL and lasers work by emitting light energy which is absorbed by the pigments in our hair. This causes the pigments to heat up and it is this heat which disrupts the hair bulge and hair bulb. The difference between IPL and lasers lies in the wavelengths of light used. IPL uses a broad spectrum of light whereas lasers uses a single wavelength of light . Different laser systems utilizes different wavelengths but they all target melanin, which is the pigment mentioned above. Hence, lasers are more precise and are considered safer as they have less risk of causing damage to surrounding structures.

Both IPL and lasers remove hair, so which is the best treatment? In terms of cost, IPL is definitely less costly as compared to lasers. However in terms of efficacy and safety, lasers are far better. 4-6 sessions of laser are needed to achieve significant underarm hair reduction. Larger number of IPL sessions are needed to achieve comparable results. For dark skin people, lasers are much safer than IPL. Mild side effects such as erythema, swelling and hyperpigmentation can occur with lasers, but compared to IPL which can cause burns, the former is preferable.

As to which is the best treatment for you, it really depends on factors such as costs, skin type and expected duration of treatment all play a part. It is best to have an in-dept discussion with your treating physician before deciding on which treatment is optimal for you.

Hope this helps!

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