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Pulsed Light Hair Removal: What are the Risks?

Pulsed light hair removal is a hair removal technique that has been offered for several decades. It is particularly appealing for the lasting results it provides. However, before trying this method, it is essential to have all the necessary information at hand, especially about the risks. Learn more in this article.

Pulsed light hair removal, in brief.

Thepulsed light hair removalis a method based on thephotothermolysis, meaningit aims to generate specific thermal damage to the hair while minimizing damage to the surrounding tissues. The device emits pulses of light that are captured by melanin, a pigment present in the hair and responsible for its color. It acts as a chromophore, absorbing light at a specific wavelength. It then transfers this energy to the surrounding molecules, causing a temperature increase. This heat is then transmitted to the hair bulb, resulting in significant damage, includingapoptosis (programmed cell death) of the hair follicle.

The minor risks of pulsed light hair removal.

Although it is known to be painless, hair removal with pulsed light can still cause a sensation of tingling and warmth. Indeed, the device emits light rays that produce heat upon contact with the skin's melanin. This heat is then used to destroy the hair roots. While unpleasant, the pain is nonetheless bearable. In some cases, it can cause transient burning sensations, primarily in individuals with fair skin due to a low melanin content.

Beyond minor effects, pulsed light hair removal is responsible for thermal effects, including transient erythema. This is characterized by redness in the treated area due to dilation of the superficial skin vessels under the effect of the rays. This effect is quite common and was encountered in 92% of individuals who underwent pulsed light hair removal in a clinical study.

This phenomenon is usually accompanied by a perifollicular edema observed in 72% of cases and by desquamation. Furthermore, a purpura can be induced by pulsed light hair removal. Unlike erythema, it appears as purple or violet spots that do not fade under pressure.

The serious risks of pulsed light hair removal.

Pulsed light hair removal can lead to the formation of bulbs, vesicles, and crusts, resulting from skin irritation. Although the Fox-Fordyce disease is rare, it has been observed in a subject at the axillary level after a session of pulsed light hair removal. It presents itself through pruritic follicular papules, although there are no clear explanations for its occurrence following a hair removal session.

This process can stimulate hair growth and cause the emergence of new hair in the treated area. In some cases, the heat destroys the melanin present in the skin, which results in causing pigmentation disorders, either hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentation.

Pulsed light hair removal can also pose serious risks for some individuals. These are characterized by chronic neuropathic pain when the light rays reach the nervous system. Moreover, severe effects such as eye injuries have been reported following improper handling of the laser that was directed towards the eye, damaging the retina, cornea, or iris.

How to avoid adverse reactions from pulsed light hair removal?

It should be noted that risks can be heightened by certain factors such as medication intake or the individual's skin type. This technique is incompatible with photosensitizing medications which can pose risks, such as burns, depigmentation, or an increased sensitivity to light in general.

It is not recommended for pregnant and breastfeeding women who, during this period, have a high production of hormones that can lead to the appearance ofpigmented spots,such as apregnancy mask. These are due to a high production of melanin that can absorb pulsed light and cause burns.

For those not undergoing any specific treatment, risks can be minimized by avoiding the application of any skincare product on the waxed area that could alter skin sensitivity. Exposure to natural or artificial UV rays should also be avoided after each session, as the skin is more sensitive and there is a higher risk of burns. Moles are the result of an excess of melanin and should be given special attention during the session to avoid burns. It is thus recommended to protect them by covering them with a white pencil or a bandage.


  • WEISS R. A. & al. Hair removal using a non-coherent filtered flashlamp intense pulsed light source. Lasers in Surgery and Medicine (1999).

  • Risks associated with intense pulsed light hair removers. Opinion of Anses Collective Expertise Report (2021).


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