How do you find the best type of laser hair-removal machine? Candela, YAG, LightSheer, Soprano—these are just a few of the types of laser hair-removal lasers you might stumble across on your average med spa website. Companies like to name-drop the type of technology they use, but aren't always so quick to explain what makes one laser different from another. This is part of the reason why it can be hard to understand what the best laser hair-removal device is for your hair and skin type.
Below, we've provided a quick breakdown of four of the most common types of laser hair-removal machines—Nd:Yag, Alexandrite, Diode, and Ruby—and identified pros and cons for each. The list is by no means exhaustive, but it may help you make a more informed decision.
How it works: One metric for a laser measures its melanin absorption, or the rate at which the laser's light and heat is taken up by melanin, the pigment in the skin and hair. The Nd:YAG Laser is preferred for hair removal for dark skin because of its weaker melanin absorption rate. What also makes it safer for dark skin are its long wavelengths, which can reach past the melanin in the epidermis to the melanin in the hair. However, because the laser seeks out more concentrated melanin, it is not very effective on fine or white hair.
Pros: As stated, the Nd:YAG's longer wavelengths make it safer for dark skin; they also give it the most potential to destroy hair at the papilla, the bulbous structure at the base of the hair follicle.
Cons: Because of its low melanin absorption, more treatments are required for optimal results. Treatments with these lasers can also be more painful and less effective on fine hair.
Common brand names: Cutera CoolGlide, Cynosure Elite, Candela GentleYAG
How it works: This laser hair-removal machine has a slightly longer wavelength than some of its competitors (though not as long as the Nd:YAG), which makes it usable on a wide range of skin tones, including olive skin.
Pros: Perhaps the Alexandrite's most important benefit is an increased spot size and repetition rate, which means it can treat a larger area of skin, faster. This makes it one of the quickest methods available.
Cons: Despite its long wavelength, it still has high melanin absorption, so there is a significant risk for discoloration and burns on all but very light skin.
Common brand names: Candela GentleLase, Cynosure Apogee, EpiTouch Plus
How it works: The Diode, one of the newest and most commonly used type of laser hair-removal machines today, was designed for fair to medium-dark skin types.
Pros: The Diode emits both shorter and longer wavelengths, so it boasts good melanin absorption and penetrates deep into the hair follicles. The longer wavelengths also decrease the risk of skin damage.
Cons: Darker-skinned patients usually require more treatments. It's also still a fairly new technology, and there is not yet an appropriate amount of data to assess its long-term results.
Common brand names: LightSheer, SLP 1000, LaserLite, ALma SopranoXL (sometimes marketed as SHR, or Super Hair Removal, a mode of the SopranoXL device)
How it works: As the oldest type of hair-removal laser, the Ruby has a higher melanin absorption rate than most other lasers on the market, making it most appropriate for very light skin and light hair removal.
Pros: Effective, even on very fine hair.
Cons: Because of the high melanin absorption, it is more prone to leave skin discolored. For this reason, it should only be used on very fair skin.
Common brand names: Palomar E2000, RubyStar
The information contained in this article is from the manufacturers of these lasers.