While the history of hair removal dates back at least to the ancient Egyptians, the history of laser hair removal dates back only to the late 1960s. Unfortunately, the history is one of repeated premature market launches of untested products by the commercial laser hair removal industry. After each launch, the FDA intervened and pulled the products off the market.
The first lasers promoted to target unwanted hair emitted a continuous wave of light that passed through the skin and destroyed the hair follicle. Because the products emitted a continuous wave of light, they were hard to target and use without damaging the surrounding skin.
In 1969, a method was developed to focus the lasers using a tiny fiber-optic probe that would target the follicle specifically. The product was rushed to market and advertised as safe, painless, and effective for permanent hair removal without adequately testing its safety and effectiveness. Ultimately the FDA stepped in and removed the product from the market. Later testing proved it to be both ineffective and potentially hazardous.
Promising research into removing ingrown eyelashes, tattoos, and treating vascular injuries prompted another market launch in 1979. This time it was an argon based laser that was again touted as a safe, painless, and permanent hair removal technique despite the fact that there wasn’t adequate testing to support any of the claims. The FDA again stepped in and removed the product from the market.
After clinical data showed that the user of lasers on patients with tattoos and vascular injuries sometimes led to permanent hair loss in the treated area, in 1995 the FDA approved the SoftLightTM laser for hair removal. The laser hair removal industry immediately marketed the product as a safe, painless, and permanent hair removal technique, even though, again there was not adequate testing to support these claims. The FDA was forced to step in and remove the product from the market again. Customers brought a class action lawsuit against the manufacturer of SoftLightTM. The manufacturer settled out of court.
Nothing has really changed since the mid 1990s, except for the way that companies advertise the lasers. Finally chastised by repeated FDA intervention, they no longer tout laser hair removal as permanent, but instead claim that is a way to manage unwanted hair. Research into the safety and effectiveness of laser hair removal continues.
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