In 2008, the FDA approved the very first home laser hair removal system. Since then, it has been almost impossible to avoid the torrent of advertising and late night advertorials for home laser hair removal devices. Imagine, all the laser hair removal you want, and in the comfort of your own home. All for under $300!
But do they really work? I wanted to know. I am sure you do, too.
The marketing for home use devices is everywhere now, and it is very convincing. They make very impressive claims citing clinical studies proving their effectiveness. They have important-looking doctors providing enthusiastic testimonials.
Intuitively, I didn't see how a hand-held device could possibly be powerful enough to be effective. When the Kanata Skin Clinic upgraded to their current system, the Cynosure Vectus Laser, an electrician had to install a special electrical outlet to provide the extra power it required. Comparing a hand-held, home-use device to the Cynosure Vectus seemed like comparing an Easy-Bake oven to a commercial Viking range. But still…what about all those clinical studies?
Comparing a hand-held, home-use device to the Palomar Icon seemed like comparing an Easy-Bake oven to a commercial Viking range.
So I set about investigating their claims. Dr. Hegmann, Medical Director of the Kanata Skin Clinic, provided me with several studies that were published in reputable medical journals and he helped me interpret them. In addition, I did some research on the internet on my own to see what I could learn. Unfortunately, what I found was more of a lesson in deceptive marketing practices than in legitimate clinical trials.
Most of the studies were industry-sponsored and, even then, reported only modest results. The most recent and most objective article I could find was a review of all previous studies, published in the Journal of Dermatological Surgery, March 2015. It concludes, "There is a paucity of (good) trials to support the use of home-use laser and light devices; smaller, uncontrolled industry-sponsored studies suggest that some of these devices may have modest results." Not very impressive.
Unfortunately, what I found was more of a lesson in deceptive marketing practices than in legitimate clinical trials.
I found one article online: "The recent rapid development of the directed-energy, home-use device sector", European Medical Journal, Nov. 2014, that was particularly interesting. At first glance, it looked like a legitimate, scientific paper, but something about it seemed off. It did not have the clinical, authoritative tone of the other scientific articles I had read. It sounded like a lot like advertising. On closer examination, I discovered that all three authors were industry insiders, though only one disclosed his affiliation. In effect, it was advertising, dressed up to look like a scientific paper. But it could easily dupe an unsuspecting lay person or, perhaps, a journalist? It almost duped me. Now, why would they do that?
Home Lasers: safe OR effective?
Professional lasers are so powerful that they can cause severe burns if not used correctly. It is essential that aestheticians receive proper training. In addition, eye protection must be worn at all times, both by the client and the medical aesthetician, to prevent eye injury.
In the course of my investigation, I watched a how-to video from a leading manufacturer. It featured a lady using her home laser on her legs, her bikini line, and her underarms, smiling down at it as it flashed along her skin—wearing no eye protection at all. I showed the video to Dr. Hegmann. He cringed. He suggested that, perhaps since it was approved for use at home, the pulses of light were not strong enough to cause eye damage if no eye protection was worn (he hoped). I hope they are not powerful enough to cause burns on the skin, either. But if that's the case, then how effective could they be?
In the end, I would say that, although the thought of laser hair removal in your own home is appealing, there is not enough evidence to support claims that these devices are safe and effective for long-term results.
By Monica Hegmann