Background: Unwanted hair growth is a therapeutic challenge and considerable resources are spent to achieve a hair-free appearance. Epilation with laser devices (alexandrite, diode, neodymium:YAG, and ruby lasers) and intense pulsed light are commonly used although the long-term effect is uncertain.
Objectives: To assess the effects of epilation with lasers and light sources.
Search strategy: We searched the Cochrane Skin Group's Specialised Register in February 2004; MEDLINE (from 1966) and EMBASE (from 1980) in April 2005. We searched reference lists of collected trials and contacted trial authors.
Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials of laser or photoepilation.
Data collection and analysis: Primary outcomes were objective reduction in hair counts, adverse effects and subjective reduction in hairiness. Secondary outcomes were participants satisfaction and personal observations such as softer, finer, or paler hairs. Two authors independently extracted data and assessed trial quality.
Main results: We included eleven randomised controlled trials involving 444 people, none of which were of high methodological quality. A large number of trials were excluded, mainly because of their non-randomised design. The randomisation procedures were either unclear or inadequate, using coin tossing, alternation, drawing lots or cards, or open tables of random numbers. The interventions and outcomes were too heterogeneous to be entered in a meta-analysis. Most trials examined a short-term effect up to six months after final treatment. There appeared to be a short-term effect of approximately 50% hair reduction with alexandrite and diode lasers up to six months after treatment, whereas little evidence was obtained for an effect of intense pulsed light, neodymium:YAG or ruby lasers. Long-term hair removal was not documented with any treatment. Pain, skin redness, swelling, burned hairs and pigmentary changes were infrequently reported adverse effects.
Authors' conclusions: Some treatments lead to temporary short-term hair removal. High quality research is needed on the effect of laser and photoepilation.