Mole removal

Can laser hair removal affect moles?

Laser hair removal can affect moles. It doesn't make moles develop into skin cancer, but it can cause visual changes to the mole which can make it look like a skin cancer. Laser treatment to a melanoma applied accidentally during hair removal could potentially change the appearance of the melanoma. This could conceal it or make it look less suspicious without removing it completely. The result could be delayed melanoma treatment with serious medical consequences. This is why it's important to have your skin checked for possible cancers before undertaking laser cosmetic or hair removal treatments, and the therapist must avoid moles during hair removal treatments.

Laser hair removal is a popular cosmetic treatment that uses laser energy to destroy hair follicles, resulting in long-term hair reduction. While laser hair removal is generally considered safe when performed by a trained and experienced practitioner, it is possible that the treatment could affect moles. Fortunately, laser hair removal does not increase the risk of skin cancer or make moles "turn into" melanomas.

The laser used in hair removal treatment emits a beam of light that is absorbed by the pigment (colour) in the hair follicle. This absorption of light energy causes the hair follicle to heat up and be destroyed, which results in long-term hair reduction. However, because the laser targets pigment in the skin, it is possible that it could also affect other pigmented structures, such as moles. Experienced skin cancer doctors and dermatologists can make use of this effect by using laser for removing moles. Specialised lasers can be useful for removing moles for cosmetic reasons, leaving no or almost no scarring. The laser used in hair removal is not likely to completely remove moles. It may change the appearance for some time, but generally moles will grow back after "removal" during laser hair removal treatment.

Laser hair removal usually affects the appearance of moles:

  • in the first days after treatment, black marks can appear in the mole
  • as the treated pigment is removed by the immune system, grey dots appear in and around the treated area
  • longer-term, the mole may fade or assume an irregular shape or colour since some pigmented areas may have faded more than others.

None of these changes are dangerous because skin cancer is caused by DNA damage to skin cells caused by ultraviolet radiation. Laser hair removal does not cause this type of damage. However, any of the changes to appearance caused by laser hair removal can  make the mole look more like a skin cancer. This might mean that if a doctor sees the mole after cosmetic hair removal, they might decide it needs to be removed or biopsied due to its suspicious appearance.

Laser hair removal could theoretically change the appearance of a melanoma. The main concern is that it could cause the melanoma to fade or change appearance so that it's no longer recognisable as a melanoma. This could result in a delay to treatment, giving the melanoma time to spread and cause potentially life-threatening health effects. For this reason, any mole or other pigmented spot in the hair removal area must be examined dermoscopically by a skin cancer doctor or dermatologist before treatment commences. It's also advisable to have the initial appearance of the mole documented using dermoscopic photography.

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