Overview of Different Types of Laser Hair Removal Machines
How do you find the right type of laser hair removal machine?
Below, we provide a quick breakdown of the four most common types of laser hair removal systems: Ruby, Alexandrite, Diode and Nd:YAG.
IPL, while not being a laser, is often categorised under the same umbrella of treatments. We will include it in our overview of the different laser types and identify the pros and cons of each.
This overview is intended to provide some clarity on each laser type and what skin and hair types they are effective for. While this list is by no means exhaustive, we hope it can help readers make an informed decision about which laser to buy.
As the oldest type of hair removal laser (the first to be approved for laser hair removal), it is the most established of the list and is backed by ample clinical research to prove its effectiveness for hair removal. Since it has a higher melanin absorption rate than others on the market, it is most appropriate for very light skin and light hair types. Now however, it is being surpassed by 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. It is not proven to be effective on lighter hairs (blonde, red or grey). Due to the high melanin absorption rate, it is not advisable to use the Ruby laser on darker skin as it is prone to leave skin discoloured.
One advantage that the Ruby has over others is that it contains a built-in cooling system which minimises the risk of burning and other side effects, as well as reduces the stinging heat and pain that is often felt during laser treatment.
In addition to the cooling effect, the two second delay between each laser pulse makes treatment with the Ruby one of the least painful lasers for hair removal on the market.
The downsides, however, are that the Ruby has a slower repetition rate than the other types, as well as a small treatment area capacity. This means that most subjects will require more treatments in order to see long-term results compared to 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, there are better laser treatments available these days.
Pros: Effective even on very fine hair. Slow repetition rate makes it one of the most tolerable of the laser systems.
Cons: Because of the high melanin absorption, it risks scarring and long-term pigmentation issues in darker skin types. For this reason, its use is limited to very fair skin, and even then clients should completely avoid tanning. Longer treatment duration, and therefore smaller treatment areas are ideal. Considered antiquated.
Machines: Palomar E2000, RubyStar, EpiPulse Ruby
The Alexandrite laser has a higher repetition rate than other lasers and an increased spot size capacity, so it is an excellent choice for covering larger areas of skin rapidly. It has excellent depth of penetration (light bypasses the melanin in the epidermis and aims straight for the dark matter in the hair follicle), making it one of the quickest and most effective methods available requiring fewer than average number of treatments.
In addition, it is proven to be quite effective on thinner hairs than other lasers, making it a great choice for areas of hair lacking coarseness. The downside of this rapid rate of penetration is that it can cause the treatment to be slightly more painful than the Ruby laser.
This laser type has a slightly longer wavelength than its counterparts (though not as long as the Nd:YAG), making it usable on a wide range of skin tones, including olive skin.
Despite its long wavelength, there is still a risk of pigmentation changes on darker skin due to high melanin absorption, therefore it is best when used on skin types I-III. Although it can be indicated up to type IV, treatment is often less effective at higher skin types.
The Alexandrite is generally regarded as one of the safest and most effective laser types for hair removal, and is an excellent choice when aiming to treat a larger area of the body faster.
Pros: Perhaps its most important benefit is its increased spot size and repetition rate, enabling it to treat larger areas of the skin faster. This makes it one of the quickest methods of hair removal available. More effective than other lasers on thinner hair. Can treat patients with light skin and freckles.
Cons: Still bears a significant risk for discoloration and burns on darker skin.
The Diode laser is one of the newer lasers on the market, emitting both shorter and longer wavelengths. Like the Alexandrite, it boasts good melanin absorption and high depth of penetration into the hair follicles, allowing for safer treatment as the upper layers of the skin are more protected against the laser beams. This makes the Diode laser safer for darker skin types, although it is still not recommended for use on skin types VI since there aren’t enough long-term studies to provide an accurate safety profile.
While the Diode has proven to deliver safe and excellent results on skin types I to IV, its relative newness means there are insufficient studies available to determine long-term implications. The longest results reported show over 70% hair reduction in areas treated over an 18 month period.
The Diode was designed for fair to medium skin types, and works best on dark and coarse hair. Its ability to cover larger areas efficiently makes it a great choice for the back and bikini area. It is less effective on thinner, lighter hairs, and as with all laser types, does not work well at all on blonde, red or grey hairs.
In terms of side effects, even with the deeper penetration levels there is still a risk of hyperpigmentation and scarring. In most cases, the side effects prove to be temporary. The deeper penetration can also cause treatment to be more painful. There has been higher incidence of urticaria (appearance of hives) with the Diode than with other laser types.
The pros of the Diode are that it allows for safe and effective treatment of dark and tanned skins, and works very well on coarser hair. While it may be outperformed by the Alexandrite laser on lighter skins and Nd:YAG lasers on darker skins, it is scientifically proven to be the only laser that can effectively treat the full range of skin types from a single laser source.
Pros: Longer wavelengths decrease the risk of epidermal damage. Shorter treatment duration. Faster recovery time. More effective on coarse hair than other laser systems.
Cons: Main drawback of the Diode laser is that due to its newness there is not yet an appropriate amount of data to assess its long-term results.
The Nd:YAG is the newest type of laser on the market, specifically developed for safe and efficient hair removal on tanned and darker skin types. It has been cleared for use on skin types I-VI and has proven effective in reducing hair growth in all types.
Because of how new this laser type is, long term efficacy studies have not been available yet. Due to its deep penetration rate compared to other lasers, the Nd:YAG laser can bypass a darkly pigmented epidermis and go straight for the haemoglobin in the hair follicle.
While the risk of burning and scarring still exists with the Nd:YAG, the risk presented is the same across all skin types. This is because unlike many of the other lasers, melanin is not the primary chromophore being targeted. One advantage of the Nd:YAG is that it can be adjusted to a more shallow penetration rate (532 nm) in order to attack lighter hairs closer to the surface of the skin, although this has not yet proven to be highly efficient yet.
The Nd:YAG has not been proven to be effective on light hairs (blonde, red or grey). As with the Diode laser type, its higher frequency and penetration rate can make for a more painful treatment, although most patients generally admit that it is still tolerable.
As it currently stands, the Nd:YAG is the laser of choice for clients primarily treating darker skin types, while also having the versatility to double as a vascular laser to treat a variety of vessel types.
Pros: Capable of treating all six skin types.
Cons: More painful than other lasers. Insufficient evidence for long term hair removal. Risk of burns, scarring, and skin discolouration.
IPL – Intense Pulsed Light
Although similar in treatment, IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) is not the same as laser.
While laser uses a monochromatic light ray of one set wavelength, IPL instead applies a polychromatic, noncoherent and broad spectrum light to the surface of the skin, targeting melanin. IPL tends to cover larger areas faster, while laser has a more targeted approach.
Considered to be the safest type of permanent hair reduction on the market, it is not proven to be as effective as laser, whether on darker skin or in the long term.
IPL works best on dark hair and skin types I and II. While cleared for use on all skin types, patient outcomes are generally less than desirable on skin types above II. IPL machines can be set to attack light hairs, however there are no studies proving efficacy in that regard.
Usually less costly and less painful than laser, patient results for hair removal with IPL tend to not be as good as they would be with a laser.
The main advantage of purchasing an IPL system, is that typically the one system can deliver a range of other treatments on top of hair removal (pigmentation, vascular, acne and skin rejuvenation) by interchanging filters. In order to achieve the same scope of treatments using lasers, one would require three separate laser platforms – far more expensive than one IPL for the same variety of services.
Pros: Strong safety profile. Approved for broad range of skin types. Cost-effective as able to deliver a wide range of skin treatments.
Cons: Requires higher number of treatments than laser to achieve long-term hair reduction.