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Saturday, 11 March, 2000, 02:56 GMT
Hair removal breakthrough
Laser treatment
Laser treatment can remove hair from all types of skin
Scientists have finally cracked a long-standing problem - how to remove excessive hair safely from people with dark skin.

Until now all types of laser skin treatment have been ruled out for people with dark skin because of the risk of side effects.

However, Dr Eliot Battle, a dermatologist from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), has successfully used a diode laser on a wide range of ethnic groups to reduce the number of hairs and delay re-growth.

Dr Battle said: "Many people of colour have medical conditions related to hair growth.

"Hirsuitism - excessive growth of hair on any area of the body - is more common in darker-skinned men and woman.

"Shaving can cause men with tightly coiled hair to develop painful ingrown hairs or 'beard bumps'."

More traditional means of hair removal - like plucking, waxing and electrolysis - can lead to dark spots in people with non-white skin.

How lasers work

Current laser hair removal techniques use wavelengths of light that target melanin, the pigment that determines the colour of both hair and skin.

In light-skinned people, the laser energy safely passes through the skin and is absorbed by the darker hair shaft, destroying the hair and its root.

However, because darker-skinned people have more melanin in their skin, those wavelengths would also be absorbed by and damage the skin.

The diode laser emits light at a longer wavelength which is less destructive to the skin.

The equipment also allows doctors to spread the dose over a longer period of time.

This allows the skin to cool more effectively and to tolerate a larger total dose.

These features not only protect the skin cells next to the treated hairs, they also allow energy to be targeted to cells, known as stem cells, located near the top of the hair that are thought to stimulate growth.

Dr Battle said: "Because this slower release of energy doesn't vaporise the hair shaft, as short-pulse laser treatment does, the energy is passed to the stem cells, which otherwise would remain unaffected."

Dr Battle is completing an 18-month study of the use of the diode laser for hair removal in 84 patients from 20 ethnic groups.
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