PCOS and Laser Hair Removal

November 11, 2011

As a woman with PCOS who has had to deal with the problem of hirsutism or unwanted hair growth for many years now, I was thrilled when laser treatment for hair removal was finally FDA approved.

OBGYN.net PCOS Advisory Board member Lesa Childers, is a PCOSupport Chapter Development Coordinator and is the founder of WNC PCOSupport. A great advocate for PCOS education, Childers meets many doctors and medical professionals in her work with PCOSupport. This section will highlight different health professionals discussing their work related to Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. 

For this installment, Childers discusses Laser Hair Removal with Dr. Frank McCutcheon, a plastic surgeon in private practice in Asheville, NC.. Dr. McCutcheon is a member of the American Society of Laser Medicine and Surgery and has been using laser technology to treat unwanted hair growth since its approval by the FDA in 1997.

Hello Again:

As a woman with PCOS who has had to deal with the problem of hirsutism or unwanted hair growth for many years now, I was thrilled when laser treatment for hair removal was finally FDA approved. After the birth of my child in 1999, I was finally ready to address this problem head on. By this time I had been coordinating our local PCOSupport chapter for several months and understood that this is an issue for most women with PCOS. I contacted Dr. Frank McCutcheon and asked him to provide an educational session to our group. He kindly obliged the group with a wonderful presentation about laser hair removal and gave us an actual demonstration of a laser treatment. Recently, I spent some time visiting Dr. McCutcheon’s office (one guess as to the reason why) and he graciously agreed to an interview for this column. 

Will laser hair removal take away the hair permanently?

Long-term studies have shown that up to 90% reduction in hair growth at 19 months, the length of these studies so far. Longer follow-up will be needed before claims of “permanent” removal can be made. But if is clear that very long lasting hair removal is possible. No laser hair removal system is currently allowed to claim “permanent hair removal.”

Can any area be treated?

Yes. Any hair bearing area on the body can potentially be treated.

What do I need to do in preparation for the treatments? 

Usually simple clipping or shaving of the area you wish to have treated is sufficient. Plucking or waxing the area is not usually recommended as the laser light is attracted to the dark hair under the skin.

What if I have recently had the area bothering me waxed or plucked?

Hair should be present in the follicle for laser treatments to be most effective. Since waxing or plucking pulls hair out of the follicle, recently waxed or plucked areas will not be suitable for treating. I recommend allowing enough time for the hair shafts to return to the area of concern before treating. During the time, you may shave the area, if you wish. 

Will laser treatments work better for some people than others?

Although all except the darkest skin types and lighter hair colors are potentially treatable; it usually works more effectively when used for the darkest hair against the lightest skin. People with tans should wait until their tan has faded before being treated.

What about blonde or white hair?

A dye can be applied to the hair just before treating that may make the laser more effective. However, treatment of light hair cannot be expected to be as effective as treatment of dark hair.

Will one treatment be enough?

No. The laser treatment only works on hair that is in an actively growing stage. At any given time an average of 30% of our hair may be at rest. When this hair becomes active again it will grow and require treatment. Also, growth of completely new hair in an area can occur with time and require treatment. This is why women with PCOS need to consult their primary care provider regarding medications to keep the hormones in a more normal state so that new hair growth will be at a minimum for that person. 

How many treatments will I need?

This is unknown. Research indicates that an initial series of 3-5 treatments at short intervals, e.g. – 4 weeks, followed by subsequent treatments as needed may give the best results. Depending on the area treated, your personal hair growth characteristics and your goals, between 3-8 treatments, or more, may be needed to achieve maximum results.

Are treatments painful?

No anesthetic is usually required. For especially sensitive skin or patients, however, a topical anesthetic cream can be applied in advance. 

Are there any side effects or complications?

Areas treated may develop a slightly reddened, irritated appearance that may last for a few minutes to a few hours. These areas may be mildly uncomfortable during this time. Persons with darker skin types or who are tanned may experience some lightening of the skin. This should be temporary. Few other side effects should be likely to occur.

Are there any medications I should avoid before the treatment?

Yes, if you are presently taking medications or preparations that might make your skin more sensitive to light, such as tetracycline or St. John’s Wort, you will probably be advised to stop these one to two weeks before treatment. Also, many clinics recommend stopping the use of skin care products such as Retin-A, Renova or other glycolic or alpha-hydroxy acid preparations for a week before your treatment. The can all result in your skin being more sensitive than normal to the laser light.

How much do treatments usually cost?

This will vary from clinic to clinic and most are willing to provide an estimate of charges to you prior to treatment. While one laser treatment is generally more expensive than an electrolysis treatment, the area treated can be larger and take much less time.