Background Unwanted hair growth remains a therapeutic challenge and there is a considerable need for an effective and safe treatment modality.
Objective From an evidence-based view to summarize efficacy and adverse effects from hair removal with ruby, alexandrite, diode, and Nd:YAG lasers and intense pulsed light (IPL).
Methods Original publications of controlled clinical trials were identified in Medline and the Cochrane Library.
Results A total of 9 randomized controlled (RCTs) and 21 controlled trials (CTs) were identified. The best available evidence was found for the alexandrite (three RCTs, eight CTs) and diode (three RCTs, four CTs) lasers, followed by the ruby (two RCTs, six CTs) and Nd:YAG (two RCTs, four CTs) lasers, whereas limited evidence was available for IPL sources (one RCT, one CT). Based on the present best available evidence we conclude that (i) epilation with lasers and light sources induces a partial short-term hair reduction up to 6 months postoperatively, (ii) efficacy is improved when repeated treatments are given, (iii) efficacy is superior to conventional treatments (shaving, wax epilation, electrolysis), (iv) evidence exists for a partial long-term hair removal efficacy beyond 6 months postoperatively after repetitive treatments with alexandrite and diode lasers and probably after treatment with ruby and Nd:YAG lasers, whereas evidence is lacking for long-term hair removal after IPL treatment, (v) today there is no evidence for a complete and persistent hair removal efficacy, (vi) the occurrence of postoperative side-effects is reported low for all the laser systems.
Conclusion The evidence from controlled clinical trials favours the use of lasers and light sources for removal of unwanted hair. We recommend that patients are pre-operatively informed of the expected treatment outcome.