Laser Hair Removal 101

laser leg 2

It may seem as though winter will never end, but the reality is that swim suit and shorts season will be here before you know it.  Which  means it’s time to start thinking  about getting rid of unwanted hair on legs, bikini line, underarms and back.  If you have been considering Laser Hair Removal to “permanently”  remove  hair, here are a few things you should know.

How laser hair removal works

 Just like dark surfaces absorb sun in the summer causing them to heat up, the dark pigment in hair absorbs the heat from the laser heating the hair follicle enough to damage it and kill the hair. Since it’s the dark pigment that attracts the laser, only dark hair can be expected to produce  good results. Light colored hair  will not heat up enough to cause any damage to the follicle.

And it’s not just dark hair that absorbs the light, darker skin will absorb it as well which could potentially cause burning, scarring and permanent discoloration of the skin.  The ideal candidate is someone with lighter skin and darker hair.  There are some new lasers that are capable of heating the hair and not the skin, but they seem to be less effective and would require more treatments and quicker regrowth.

How Many Treatments are Needed?

Hair goes through three cycles of growth; Anagen, Catagen and Telogen. Anagen is considered the growing stage when the root of the hair is the largest, has an abundance of melanin (pigment), and the hair is still attached to the follicle. It is only during this stage that the hair is able to be targeted by lasers. Multiple treatments are needed because the percentage of hair that is in the Anagen stage at a given time is about 25% for the body and 67% for the face.  That means a minimum of  4 treatments for the body and 2 for the face, in order to get every hair. But the truth is most of the hair follicles eventually repair themselves and begin to produce new hair. You can expect to need touch up treatments every 6 to 12 months.

Cost of Treatment

The cost of the treatments can vary widely depending on where you live, the size of the area being treated, the thickness and density of the hair, and how many treatments are needed. Small areas like the upper lip can cost anywhere between about $50 and $200 per treatment while larger areas like the full leg or a man’s full back can cost anywhere from $500 – $900 per treatment. If larger areas or multiple areas are treated, it could cost thousands of dollars.  That does sound pricey, but do the math and decide if it’s any more expensive than monthly waxing. Just don’t forget to factor in touch-ups ever 6-12 months.

Are the Results Permanent?

Manufacturers are not permitted to claim that laser hair removal is either painless or permanent unless there is FDA approved testing that demonstrates sufficient data showing such results. At this time several manufacturers have received FDA permission to claim, “permanent reduction,” but none can claim “permanent removal” for their lasers.  The only method of hair removal that is approved by the FDA as permanent is electrolysis.

Is Laser Hair Removal Safe?

Laser hair removal is not just a cosmetic treatment, but it is actually a medical procedure and does have known risks. Some of the known safety issues are  potential for burns, scarring, blisters, redness and permanent pigment changes to the treated areas.  There can also be complications from drug interaction, so be sure  to disclose any medications you are on.  And please follow the instructions for avoiding sun exposure and self tanners both before and after treatment because treated skin can  be more sensitive.  Self tanners could cause a rash or irritation and sun exposure could result in a serious sunburn.

Are There Long Term Effects?

Most information available about laser safety issues claim the type of lasers used are not cancer producing, but a search of both the FDA website and PubMed produced little data on the long term effects from repeated use of lasers on the skin. According to PubMed: “Several studies on hair removal with intense pulsed light (IPL) and various laser sources have been done, but adequate data on longterm follow up are scarce.”

My Personal Opinion

As far as the issues of cost, pain, effectiveness and how long the results will last, I feel those questions are really more about what each individual is willing to endure or can afford.  I am not a doctor or a scientist, but to me the concern I have is about not knowing the long term results from repeated use of lasers on the skin. Lasers have been used in medicine for about 30 years and medical lasers have made it possible to treat conditions previously considered untreatable, or difficult to treat.  But I think there is a big difference between using a laser briefly on a small area of the body during surgery and repeated laser treatments over large areas like the back, chest, face or legs for cosmetic purposes. Too often new products and medicines are brought to market without proper testing that  after years of use turn out to be harmful.  Doctors once thought tanning was healthy and recommended tanning beds to patients suffering from acne. Today, skin cancer is one of the most common and deadly cancers and is caused mostly from sun exposure and tanning beds. Often the skin damage from tanning doesn’t show up until many years after exposure. There are numerous drugs on the market that were once considered safe but after long term studies prove to cause serious damage to organs and body systems.

  • Acetaminophen (commonly used since the 1970’s) was thought to be a safe replacement for aspirin because it was easier on the stomach.  Recently it has been associated with serious liver damage.
  • Hormone Replacement Therapy (widely prescribed for over 6 decades) was given   to women to help relieve many of the symptoms of menopause as well as help prevent heart disease, and keep bones strong and was believed to have very few side effects. In 2002, the results of an extensive women’s study (the WHI) showed that  HRT in fact did NOT decrease a woman’s chance of getting heart disease, but rather definitively increased her risk of blood clotting, stroke and breast cancer.

With the increased popularity (and profitability) of Laser Hair Removal  humans are once again being used as  guinea pigs to test products.  Without long term clinical studies we can’t really know the effects that may show up years later.  If a light is strong enough to seriously damage a hair follicle, one can’t help but wonder what residual effects if might have on the skin. Waxing and shaving may not be the perfect way to remove hair, but at least we know that they’re safe!



Please Don’t Exercise Your Face!


If you made a  New Year’s  resolution to start an exercise program, good for you!  Exercise has enormous health benefits, and I applaud your efforts and wish you great success. But a word of caution, please don’t include facial exercises as part of your fitness program. They could do more harm than good.

 There are many great reasons to exercise: stronger muscles, improved cardiovascular health, increased bone density and weight loss are just a few of the benefits of exercise. And, exercise can help  improve the appearance of the skin:

  • Exercise can reduce stress by lowering stress producing hormones and release “feel good” endorphins in the brain. If you have read any of my previous posts about stress you know how damaging it can be to your skin.  Acne, eczema, sensitivity, dryness, dullness, and premature aging, are a few of the skin problems that can be exacerbated by stress. Committing to regular exercise program will help keep stress in check, and you’ll feel and look better.
  • Exercise also promotes healthy circulation which, according to dermatologist, Dr. Ellen Marmur will keep your skin healthy and vibrant. “By increasing blood flow, exercise helps nourish skin cells and keeps them vital.  Blood carries oxygen and nutrients to working cells throughout the body, including the skin. In addition to providing oxygen, blood flow also helps carry away waste products and free radicals from working cells.”

So whatever form of exercise you choose, running, weight lifting, pilates, yoga or swimming, your skin will reap the rewards as well. But, if you think facial exercises will help prevent aging and make you look younger, you should know that the  idea that it is possible to “develop” the muscles in your face in order to “push out the wrinkles” (as stated on the website is just wrong.

I love the idea of facial exercises as a way to improve your appearance. After all, my focus is on natural ways to take care of your skin, and what could be more natural than exercise.  However, my gut instinct and everything I know about skin tells me no, no, no!   

First, let’s talk about why we need to exercise:

  • Quite simply, we exercise because we no longer engage in the types of daily physical activities our ancestors performed, that kept their muscles strong and in peak condition. Their daily routine included running, lifting, carrying heavy loads, and pushing and pulling heavy objects.  Our lives have become quite sedentary; we spend much of our time in front of the TV or computer. So we go to the gym to lift weights, run on a treadmill, do pilates, yoga and zumba to replicate the movements that were once a regular part of our lives.
  • But never in the history of mankind have we ever used the muscles of the face for anything other than what we use them for today!  Talking, chewing, blinking, smiling, frowning and other facial expressions have not changed over the years, and we use the muscles of our face exactly the same way our primitive ancestors did.  Our bodies may have become more sedentary, but our faces have not!  We don’t need to do “facial exercises” because we have not stopped using our facial muscles.

Still not convinced?  Let’s look at how exercise works:

  • According to my friend Mickey Glick, Personal Trainer and owner of Body and Soul Fitness Studio, to effectively build our muscles requires movement, resistance and challenge.  In other words, we have to engage our muscles (movement) while holding, pushing or pulling something that has weight (resistance), and we need to increase the weight (challenge) as the movement becomes easier. I have no idea how it would be possible to use your face to do resistance exercises.  Maybe attach weights to facial piercings?  The images that invokes are quite disturbing!

Maybe you’re thinking, but wait, I’m doing exercises to “tone” my facial muscles, not build them. If by toning you mean using repeated movement in order to keep them from becoming weak and flabby, just think about how often you use your facial muscles every day.  In fact, the busiest muscles of the body are the ones responsible for blinking, which we do about 100,000  times a day.  Funny, all that “exercising” and we are still plagued with “crows feet” Hmm…

 Here’s the real reason we develop lines, wrinkles and sagging skin: 

  • Slowed collagen and elastin production
  • Decreased cellular regeneration
  • Loss of underlying fat
  • Thinning skin 
  • Lengthening of ligaments 
  • Gravity 
  • Facial expressions and movement


“The effects of aging on the dermal layer [where collagen and elastin are found] are significant. Not only does the dermal layer thin, but also less collagen is produced, and the elastin fibers that provide elasticity wear out.  These changes in the scaffolding of the skin cause the skin to wrinkle and sag.”

From Dr. Marmur:

“Loss of elasticity and volume, decreased collagen, elastin and even bone and gravity all act to alter the symmetry of the face over time. The dissolving extracellular matrix, is similar to a once-fluffy down pillow that eventually flattens and loses its shape.”    

It’s the loss of the cushiony layers of the skin that give the face fullness and shape that are responsible for lines and wrinkle, not the condition of your facial muscles. In fact, the use of those muscles is a key player in the formation of lines and wrinkles. Remember when you’re mother told you to stop making faces because your face could freeze like that?  Well she was right! Our facial muscles are the only muscles in the body that are attached directly to the skin and as a result when they contract, the skin moves. It’s this skin movement combined with other factors such as sun exposure, smoking, poor diet, chronological aging and gravity that are responsible for lines and wrinkles. In fact a common treatment for lines and wrinkles is Botox, which works by weakening the muscles, allowing the skin to relax and the lines to smooth out.

The following is from

“Facial expressions – people who repeatedly smile, frown, or squint will develop fine lines and wrinkles earlier than others who do not do these facial expressions so often. According to the Mayo Clinic, each time we use a facial muscle a groove forms under the surface of the skin. When you are young the skin springs back, but as it gets older and loses its flexibility springing back becomes harder and less frequent, resulting in more permanent grooves.”                                      

And from

“Smiling–along with squinting, frowning and other repetitive facial expressions makes fine lines and wrinkles more prominent over time because skin loses elasticity as we age.  And those facial exercises some of us do to try to improve muscle tone?  They actually have the opposite effect.”

Aging is inevitable, and the last thing you want to do is engage in practices that can speed up the process.  You may not be able to stop smiling, laughing and frowning, but you can make the choice not to do facial exercises. And hey, who doesn’t want a good excuse not to exercise!


“Simple Skin Beauty”- Dr. Ellen Marmur

Mickey Glick-

Are There Really Foods that can Trigger Breakouts?


Let me begin by saying that of course you need to maintain a healthy diet to have healthy skin.  All the organs of the body need  high quality  fuel in order to function properly.  For those who generally follow healthy eating habits but experience occasional breakouts or have acne that you blame on chocolate,  fried foods or some other  personal gastronomic  cryptonite, here is some interesting information:

It’s been a common belief among those suffering from acne and breakouts that certain foods can increase the incidence and severity of pimples.  Whether it’s too much chocolate, greasy fast food or some other  overindulgence, eat too much of a “trigger food” and you get pimples.  For most of my career I’ve believed that the only connection between what a person eats and  pimples  is probably not the food, but the stress that triggered the urge to overeat that food, and it’s commonly accepted that stress is a contributing factor for breakouts. The only food I ever felt might contribute to breakouts is dairy. Cows are given hormones to  increase milk production and we do know that certain hormones can be a contributing factor for breakouts and acne.

Turns out I was right. And wrong.

There has been an enormous amount of research focused on a possible link between diet and acne, and the results may surprise you. There does not seem to be any connection between acne and eating chocolate, or fatty foods. Yes that’s right no connection! There is however, evidence that acne can be affected by the consumption of dairy products as well as high-glycemic-index foods like soda, cakes and white bread. (I’ll provide a link at the bottom of this post for a more comprehensive list of high GI foods.) The following is from

  • There exists convincing data supporting the role of dairy products and high-glycemic-index foods in influencing hormonal and inflammatory factors, which can increase acne prevalence and severity. Studies have been inconclusive regarding the association between acne and other foods.
  • Authors of a randomized controlled trial examined the effect of low-glycemic diets on acne risk and insulin sensitivity. Individuals assigned to the low-glycemic diet experienced improvement in the  number of acne lesions, when compared with the control group. In addition, the low-glycemic diet group’s  weight decreased, and insulin sensitivity and SHBG [sex hormone-binding globulin] levels increased. Increases in SHBG levels correlated with decreased lesion counts. These investigative findings support the role of low-glycemic diets in influencing hormonal levels, as well as improving insulin sensitivity and acne.

One particularly interesting aspect of the studies  is the discovery that skim milk was more likely to contribute to acne than whole milk:

  • Authors of a large case-control study evaluated the association between milk and acne in the adolescent diets of more than 47,000 nurses. Among participants who had been diagnosed with severe acne as teenagers, those with the highest level of total milk intake (3 servings per day) reported having acne more frequently, when compared with individuals with the lowest level of intake (serving per week). This association was strongest (a 44% increase) for skim milk intake, suggesting fat content was not the determining factor for acne risk. Researchers hypothesized that the hormones found in milk played a role in acne risk.
  • A study from 2005 showed that components of milk, other than lipids, have insulin-stimulating abilities. Insulin drives insulin-like growth factor, which in turn increases testosterone [ a hormone  associated with increased acne and breakouts].

The conclusion:

  • Although studies are showing a an increased risk for breakouts for those eating dairy and high-glycemic index foods, no study has established a positive association between acne and chocolate, saturated fat, or salt intake.

Good news, and food for thought!


Protect Your Skin with Tomatoes


Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant found in tomatoes that can help protect your skin from sun damage as well as increase levels of collagen, which gives skin it’s structure and elasticity. You still need to use sunscreen, but by including tomatoes in your diet you’ll have added protection. Processed or cooked tomatoes, like those found in tomato paste, soup or juice have the highest concentration of lycopene and adding olive oil makes it even more potent. Daily intake should be the equivalent of 5 tablespoons of tomato paste with 2 teaspoons of olive oil. I make a light soup by adding some water and a few herbs to tomato paste. It’s makes a great snack!


Why are Dermatologists still recommending Cetaphil?

So last night on my way home from work I stopped in the drug store where I became involved in a conversation with some young adults  discussing what they were doing to treat their acne.   One young lady was using a prescription medication and was cleansing with Cetaphil at her doctors recommendation.  After 13 years as an Esthetician I have had many  clients tell me the same thing. Doctors have been giving patients this advice for years, and I think they’re wrong.

Here’s the problem: Anyone who has acne knows that a big problem for them is skin redness and irritation, and if they’re using a prescription acne med or strong OTC acne products, it’s most likely dry as well.  The young lady I met yesterday was dealing with both issues and was  very frustrated with how her skin looked and felt.  The breakouts were clearing up, but her face was covered with red spots and was so dry it was uncomfortable.  Because Cetaphil has Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) as the main cleansing agent, simply washing her face with it was causing her skin to become overly dry and irritated.  I have a previous post about the problems of using products that over cleanse the skin* , but if you haven’t read it, you should know that S LS is one of the most irritating substance you will find in a facial product, and is such a strong degreaser that it strips the skin of all oil.  Cleansing should not strip the skin, it should wash away the make-up, and dirt that sit on top of a thin layer of protective oil leaving the skin refreshed not irritated.

So why do dermatologists recommend a product that contains such a harsh, drying ingredient?   I have no idea, but if you’re a dermatologist, I would love to hear your answer.

*Here is a link to my previous post

More on Stress

Stressed_3_tns          In a previous post, I addressed my concerns about the use of the word “pamper” to describe the relaxation one experiences during a facial. My argument was based on my belief that anything done to relieve stress and its accompanying ill effects should be viewed as wellness. And unlike pampering, which we feel we have to earn, wellness is a practice we should feel comfortable committing to on an ongoing basis to maintain good health. So after reading that post, I’m certain you are now committed to scheduling a facial with me once month, right?

Still need more convincing?

We all know stress is bad for us. We hear it all the time. But do you really know what that means, how it happens or what it does to our bodies? Maybe a closer look at how your body reacts to stress will help you make the decision to do something about it (and not feel guilty!).

Now I will admit I’m a nerd, but I am not a scientist and probably most of you aren’t either. So even though this is a highly scientific process, I’m not going to talk about the HPA Axis and how messenger molecules tell the hypothalamus to release hormones that tell the pituitary gland to tell the, adrenal glands to release more hormones, blah, blah, blah. Most of you are probably already nodding off, but for those of you who enjoy this much information, I will provide a link at the bottom of this post where you can go to find all those gory details.


In order to maintain balance within the body, there are two major parts of our nervous system that function in balance with each other. The parasympathetic nervous system which is our “rest and recovery mode” and the sympathetic nervous system, our “flight or fight mode” and one of these two states is always engaged. Our sympathetic nervous system was particularly useful to primitive man to prepare the body to escape an attacking animal, or fight a neighboring tribe. During times of stress, when the sympathetic nervous system is engaged, the body redirects blood flow from other organs to the brain to help make quick decisions, and more energy to the muscles to flee or attack. Once the danger had passed, the body returns to the parasympathetic state allowing for normal bodily functions.

Modern man is no longer plagued by the same dangers as our ancestors, but we still deal with stress every day, most of it psychological. The type of stress we experience may have changed, but the way our bodies react to it has not. And because for many people the stress is constant, the body has little or no time for recovery and repair. Our bodies are designed to experience stress, and it can help keep us alert and motivated, as well as keep us safe, but the sympathetic nervous system is designed to work on a short term basis, and when we are in a constant state of stress our bodies suffer.

Here’s what happens when the body perceives a stressful event:

  • All the senses go on alert.
  • Heart rate increases.
  • Blood pressure rises.
  • Blood vessels dilate.
  • The digestive system slows down.
  • The liver produces glucose.
  • The immune system slows down.
  • The bodies growth and repair functions stop.

All of these reactions occur because the body is rerouting blood and energy to our muscles and brain which leaves our other organs and systems in a more vulnerable state. If  the stress passes quickly, the body returns to the parasympathetic mode and we are able to continue normal bodily functions. No harm done.

Unfortunately, for many of us our lives are so busy and active and filled with stress, that we rarely give our bodies time to rest and recover. We are in a constant state of chronic stress, causing our energy reserves to be depleted and because our immune system is compromised, we are more susceptible to disease and disorder. There are very few diseases in which stress cannot play an aggravating role, but the following is a list of some of the more common effects of chronic stress:

  • ·Headaches
  •  High blood pressure
  • ·Heart problems
  •  Diabetes
  •  Asthma
  • Arthritis
  •  Depression
  •  Anxiety
  • Intestinal distress
  • Skin disorders

Since I am an Esthetician and this blog is focused on skin care, let’s look more closely at how the skin is affected by chronic stress.

  •  Rosacea can worsen due to the dilation of blood vessels.  Increased vasodilation can weaken the capillary walls increasing the likelihood of broken blood vessels and increased skin redness.
  •  Acne can be impacted by the release of hormones that cause increased activity of the oil glands.  The oil mixes with dead skin cells clogging the pores and trapping bacteria inside, resulting in more breakouts.  An increase in inflammation caused by stress can weaken the walls of the pores, causing them to break.  When this happens, the body responds with redness around the   broken pore, and an influx of pus.
  •  Dry skin, as a result of the depletion of bodily fluids. This can impair skin barrier function allowing more irritants, allergens and infectious agents to penetrate the skin.  The build up of dry skin can also give the skin a dull appearance.
  • Premature aging.  Decreased blood flow means the skin is not receiving the  necessary nutrients it needs and waste is not being removed, which can make  the skin appear older.  Plus dry skin makes lines and wrinkles more visible        and the increased glucose levels can damage collagen causing the skin to sag.
  • Psoriasis, eczema and rashes can all become worse during times of stress as a result of an increase in the amounts of inflammation producing  neuropeptides  in the skin.
  •  Excessive hair growth as a result of  fluctuating hormones.
  •  Autoimmune diseases  like vitiligo (depigmented white spots on the skin) and alopecia (hair loss) can become worse as a consequence of the immune system being compromised.
  • Cold sores can flare up due to a depressed immune system.

Since 43% of adults report experiencing adverse effects of stress and 75-90% of all doctors visits are for stress related ailments and complaints, it’s obvious we need to do something to stop the stress cycle. By taking steps to minimize stress, we can allow our bodies to move toward wellness to help reduce our chances for contracting serious disease with the added bonus of the improvement in the appearnce of the skin. Whether you practice yoga, meditate, take long walks or get a facial, I encourage you to find a path to recovery from stress. You’ll look better, feel better, and you may live a  longer healthier life.

In a future post I’ll offer some ideas for simple ways to incorporate stress reduction techniques into your daily routine.  Stay tuned!

For more information on stress go to:

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