To remove hair, lasers depend on the melanin (pigment) in the shaft of the hair follicle to act as a chromophore. Chromophores are the portion of a molecule that absorb and reflect light, and are thus responsible for the color of that molecule. The laser’s target is likely the stem cells located in the follicle, and permanent hair reduction is achieved by adequately heating the shaft so that heat can diffuse from the shaft to the follicle (1). Because the laser requires melanin to heat the follicle, laser hair removal of white and very blonde hair has been unsuccessful. Attempts to dye the hair using exogenous chromophores (chromophores produced outside the body) have produced weak results and would be far too costly for practical use (2).
Recently, evidence has surfaced indicating that dying the unwanted hair and subsequently applying intense pulsed light (IPL) might be an option for individuals hoping to remove white hair. Alijanpoor et al (2011) conducted a randomized, single-blinded research trial to evaluate the effectiveness of IPL in treating white facial hair in women with hirsutism (excessive body hair where hair is not typically present or is minimal. It commonly occurs in women with polycystic ovarian disease or other endocrine disorders with testosterone production). The participants were divided into 2 groups – those whose white hair would be dyed with black eyeliner (n=31) and those whose white hair would be dyed with black hair dye (n=31) (3). For the participants in the first group the hair was colored on the same day as the IPL session, and for the participants in the second group the hair was colored 2 days prior to the IPL session (3). In both groups, ice was applied for 10 minutes after coloring the hair to cure the dye, followed by application of zinc oxide cream (3). The participants had six sessions spaced 4 weeks apart as well as 3- and 6-month follow-up sessions (3). Outcomes were based primarily on clinical observation (scored from poor to good), but participant satisfaction (self-assessed on a scale from poor to desirable) was also considered (3). Alijanpoor et al (2011) found that all participants in the eyeliner group responded either “fair” or “good” to the treatment and all but 1 participant in the hair dye group showed a response that was either “fair” or “good” (3). The participants’ satisfaction reports closely matched the above clinical observations (3). Thirty-one participants (11 from the hair dye and 15 from the eyeliner group) attended the follow-up sessions, and all but 8 showed significant improvement 6 months following cessation of treatment (3). Interestingly, older participants appeared to respond better to the therapy than younger participants (3).
IPL devices work by heating a large area superficially, whereas lasers heat small areas more deeply. IPL devices are less selective than lasers, which is why they should only be used in individuals with fair skin and dark hair. It is possible that the apparent success of IPL in treating dyed white hair is somehow related to the non-selective nature of IPL. Since IPL is non-selective, using this device on individuals other than those with very fair skin is (at best) ineffective and (at worst) very harmful. The amount of heat likely required to remove white hair would cause burns and pigment changes in olive- and darker-skinned individuals.
Still, it is exciting that IPL may be an efficient and affordable method for removing white hair in fair-skinned individuals. Although IPL may not be the best choice for hair removal in most clients with pigmented hair, larger and more comprehensive studies with longer follow-up periods may reveal that IPL devices are an extremely valuable addition to one’s laser practice.
1. Ibrahimi OA, Avram MM, Hankes CW, Kilmer SL, and Anderson RR. Laser hair removal. Dermatologic Therapy 24: 94-107 (2011).
2. Sand M, Bechara FG, Sand D, Altmeyer P, and Hoffman K. A randomized, controlled, double-blind study evaluating melanin-encapsulated liposomes as a chromophore for laser hair removal of blond, white, and grey hair. Annals of Plastic Surgery 58(5): 551-554 (2007).
3. Alijanpoor R, BejehMir AP, and Mokmeli S. Successful white hair removal with combined coloring and intense pulsed light (IPL): A randomized clinical trial. Photomedicine and Laser Surgery: DOI: 10.1089/pho.2010.2940