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Laser hair removal: consumer tips

A note on laser marketing to consumers

My work in the field of advertising and marketing has taught me the marketing tactics often used by those in my line of work. FDA is constantly warning unethical marketers not to misuse words that have resonance with consumers. In recent years, they have had to outline strict rules for the use of words like "recycled," "fresh," "natural," and "light." Laser companies have two terms they know would drive sales: "painless" and "permanent hair removal." Since FDA has ruled that lasers can't legally use either, they try to imply these with synonyms. Here are some terms that have been used in laser sales materials or are currently at their websites.

" 100% effective"

" guaranteed"

" light years ahead of electrolysis"

" FDA approved"

" so revolutionary it requires a patent"

" mildly uncomfortable (if at all)"

" prevents regrowth"

" makes regrowth impossible"

" completely eliminates regrowth"

" permanent (when combined with electrolysis)"

These are at best misleading and at worst illegal. Laser marketers say "I believe our product is permanent" in the same way cigarette company CEOs said "I believe our product is safe and non-addictive" while under oath to Congress. Hair removal is a one BILLION dollar annual U.S. market and is expected to increase to four billion by 2000. When there's enough money at stake, some people are willing to say anything.

If you decide to look into lasers

The facts in this section will not deter some of you from seeking laser treatment. At least you know information presented here before going in. Perhaps instead of paying, you can get involved in a clinical trial so that the only thing you'll be risking is a year or two of lost time and the health of your skin.

If they place you in a clinical study, keep in mind they may place restrictions on you, such as not allowing you to supplement laser treatment with any other method of removing or hiding hair. Be sure to keep a copy of any terms, conditions, contracts, or waivers you are asked to sign as part of any study.

Remember, I do not recommend lasers and suggest investing that money in needle electrolysis. However, if you've decided to take a gamble with your time, money and complexion, I've included contact information on each type of laser on their respective web pages.

If you plan to pay for laser treatments, you should remember the following points:

Doctors are salespeople, too. They are trying to sell you something that will cost you a lot of money. They have to make payments on their $60,000 to $150,000 laser device. That's a lotta sales they have to make.

Doctors are not perfect. Doctors can also be fooled by marketing hype-- they are bombarded with advertisements for lasers. Sales reps take them to lunch or to a sports event and chat about how great their system is, and how much money they could make. Doctors hear rumors and believe them, too. I have heard of several good, trustworthy physicians who bought SoftLight machines when they came out, believing they were permanent. Physicians can also be too busy/lazy to read more than an abstract of a clinical study. I am constantly amazed at how trusting some people are of physicians, taking their word as gospel.

Get a written guarantee of the results they promise. If they are willing to promise permanent results in writing, you can sue for a refund if you aren't satisfied.

Ask for clinical studies that prove their claims, especially if they tell you it is permanent. They will say you wouldn't understand. They will say it's too technical. They will hand you sales materials and promotional literature. They will hand you a copy of a fashion magazine article. Insist on getting a hard copy of a recently published clinical study about their laser results.

Insist on a doctor, not a technician. Get all the answers you require from the doctor who will be performing the procedure. If the doctor has a technician perform treatment, insist on finding out the credentials of the person who will be treating you. Get a written list of possible side effects and the doctor's assessment of your skin type.

If after taking the above steps, you decide to get laser hair removal treatment:

Carefully read any waivers or disclaimers you are required to sign, and keep a copy for yourself. Most clinics will require patients to sign an "informed consent" form, meaning you know the risks and don't care. Patients should read forms very carefully to ensure that they are not waiving their legal rights in the event of any complications, either short-term or long-term. If in doubt, get legal advice.

Beware of multi-treatment deals, especially ones requiring payment in advance. Ask them to give you a money-back guarantee in writing. Treatments typically are sold in packages of 2 to 6, over a period of one year. Multiple treatment is a tricky thing-- even the only proven permanent method, electrolysis, requires multiple treatments over time. Promoters of ineffective hair removal methods, such as electric tweezers, use this argument to keep consumers coming in. The argument is rooted in fact: hair does indeed grow in stages, and it is most readily treated in the anagen (active growth) stage. However, it is difficult to discern the difference between regrowth and new growth, and this is sometimes used to fool consumers into coming back for treatment after treatment, until they finally run out of patience or money.

Get a written receipt with your payment that describes the terms of your agreement and number of treatments you will receive. Some people have been able to get in writing that they will continue to clear them after six treatments for free. Push for a deal like this, rather than six treatments and you're on your own.

Get a test area done. I would strongly urge you get this done away from your face.

Be willing to write off the time and money you are going to spend. This is vital. Some people are willing to take a chance on unproven technology, and we all benefit from these people. There are a few lucky people who have enough disposable income to try procedures that are still being perfected, even though they may end up with nothing to show for it. If you cannot afford to risk your time, money, or complexion on unproven methods, invest in the only proven permanent method: electrolysis.


Barbara's tips

Barbara has had treatment with a couple of lasers and sent along her own list of suggestions

An Incomplete Guide When Considering Laser Hair Removal

When calling up for information:

1. Always ask for a test patch before signing up for treatment. Seems obvious, but there were plenty of times when I just wanted to get the whole darn thing over with and would have mortgaged my cat to do so. Don't be impulsive.

2. Ask what kind of laser they are using. Ask and make a note of the type of laser, how old their particular machine is, ask how long they have had it, ask if there's any newer by the same manufacturer (they may not like this question, but you have a right to know), and ask what the range of energy they typically treat at (you should get numbers like 12-25). The more info you can get on the machine, the better.

3. Ask who will be doing your test patch and who will be doing your treatment IF you sign up. Often they mislead you into thinking that a doctor will be doing the treatment, when in reality it will be a technician with no medical background. Ask what their medical or technical training is. Ask how long they have been using this particular machine (and don't be impressed if you get an answer like "well, they've been doing hair removal for years on various machines . . ."; you have a right to the specifics).

4. Ask how much a test patch will cost and make a note of it.

5. Ask how much growth you should have before the test patch is done. If they give you a suspect answer (like 5 days' worth) you may want to get a second opinion or abandon that company altogether. Ask they why so much or so little if you have any suspicions. If they cannot answer the question to your satisfaction, get a second opinion or abandon. It may meant they do not understand the machine or the process. Also ask if there is anything else you should or should not do to your skin before coming in.

6. Ask them why their machine is better than all the others. Again, they may not like this question very much, but it may give you a clear idea of whether or not they are just out to get your money.

7. Ask them if they have pain relief available if you need it. If they try to tell you it's painless, or if they make you feel bad for even asking the question, BEWARE! It may mean they they have not actually had treatment on themselves and do not know what they're selling to you! At the very least, they may not be sympathetic to your needs.

8. Ask them for a ball park figure on how much it would cost to have a particular area treated. In my experience, no one was willing to give this information out over the phone. I guess this is because laser treatments generally sound expensive. They might be afraid of losing business if they tell you over the phone. Ask anyway.

9. Ask if their clients experience any redness or swelling and how long it lasted. Some is normal, so don't be put off.

10. Ask if they can send you all the information they have before you go in for a the test. Ask for clinical trial (don't let them confuse you with case study information which is slightly different) information in particular. If you don't get any written info before the test, get it when you're there. If you don't get any written info at all from them within a reasonable amount of time, abandon them altogether.

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When you have a test patch done:

1. Before you do anything, get the estimated price of the total treatment (make sure you're not quoted a per-session rate) and the number of individual sessions it will take until you're totally clear. Get it in writing.

2. Always read the release form carefully before signing. Always ask for a copy. If they say no, take your money and run outta there.

3. Make sure they use eye protection, on you and themselves. I had one guy who didn't use any at all. When I questioned him he said he just closed his eyes with each pulse. This tells me that either he didn't properly understand the damage it could do to him (and maybe me???), or he wanted to be blind later on in life.

4. Don't be afraid to tell them to stop if it hurts. It's your body and they should respect you. If they don't, simply get up and get out.

5. Ask how long it will take for the hair to fall out.

6. Ask how long it will be before you can clear any new or regrowth. Be suspect if they give you an unreasonable time frame (in my opinion, more than 48 hours is unreasonable), and ask why if you do. If they do not give you an answer you understand, BEWARE.

7. Ask if you will need to do anything special to your skin after treatment. One woman tried to sell me a certain brand of Witch Hazel. I didn't go back to her after that.

8. Ask if they have been treated by that particular machine. Ask if they felt any pain, how long did it take for their hair to fall out, did they have any side effects (as if they'll tell you, but it's still worth asking), and how long did it last.

9. Ask how often you should come in IF you sign up for treatment. I found that the answers varied significantly.

10. Bring an ice pack with you just in case you need it.

11. DON'T, DON'T, DON'T sign up for treatment on the spot!! I cannot emphasize this enough. Sadly, some of the people you encounter will only be interested in your wallet, not your well-being. If they try to pressure you, end the meeting immediately. Don't be afraid to be rude if necessary, if they've been rude to you.

12. Wait until you've had at least three test patches done, and wait 12-14 days after they've been done to make sure it works, before deciding which method and company you'll choose. If you're still unsure, get more test patches done, even with the same people if necessary.

13. Beware of places that give you the you'll-save-if-you-pay-for-all-your-treatments-upfront line. They may be counting on you to give up after a few sessions. Even if they are well-intentioned it makes it difficult for you to stop in the middle if you become dissatisfied with them.

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During full treatment:

14. If you find yourself in the middle of an unsatisfactory situation (including a personality conflict with the person treating you), don't be afraid to make changes. You are paying for this service and you should get teh most for your money. You can ask for a different technician, ask more questions about the effectiveness of their treatment, or even discontinue treatment at that center if necessary. Again, it's your body and you need to do what's comfortable for you. Listen to any inner nagging or negative feelings you have and act on them, even if in a small way. You should find a sympathetic, experienced technician who can provide you with the answers to all you hair removal questions.

Thanks to Barbara for these excellent tips! If you have any additional tips, please send them along.