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Understanding Hair Growth Cycles

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Laser hair removal treatments, like human hair growth cycles, are not an exact science most of the time. However, both are relevant to one another where hair removal is concerned. That's why it's recommended that laser hair removal patients have at least a basic understanding of how hair growth cycles work—it may provide you the insight needed to optimize your laser hair removal results, and properly plan your treatments!

Hair Growth Basics

When trying to educate yourself on the specifics of hair growth cycles as they pertain to hair removal treatments, or even to aid in hair loss treatment and prevention, understanding the physiological process of hair growth itself is a good place to start.

Each individual hair follicle, where hair growth originates, is a complex system in of itself. Located in the dermis skin layer, hair follicles include connective muscle tissues, sebaceous glands, follicle cells, and connect to the dermal papilla, which is the generation center for hair growth. In essence, the dermal papilla is a cluster of stem cells that determine much of a hair fiber's color, structure, growth rate, etc.

Hair growth happens in three phases:

  • Anagen (growth): About 85-90% of human hair is in the anagen phase at any given time, where hair grows an average of 0.34-0.4 mm/day (scalp hair). The length of the anagen phase can last anywhere from 2-6 years, but 2-3 years is the average for scalp hair. The growth phase is typically shorter for body hair than for scalp hair.

  • Catagen (transition/regression/breakdown): Catagen is the shortest of the growth cycle phases, lasting 1-3 weeks on average. About 1-3% of hairs are in catagen at any given time. During catagen, the hair follicle will shorten or regress to a fraction of the length it was in anagen. At this time, the dermal papilla detaches from the hair structure, causing the hair fiber to stop growing.

  • Telogen (release/rest): Hairs that were uprooted during catagen will typically be shed or released during telogen. The telogen phase can last 1-3 months on average, depending on how long the dermal papilla remains in resting mode. Around 10% of hairs are in the telogen phase at any given time. Since the hair fiber has no root in telogen, hairs may easily be removed or fall out through brushing, combing, shampooing or plucking. If a hair stays put until the end of the telogen phase, it will be pushed out of the follicle when the next anagen phase begins.

An additional point worth noting—briefly indicated above—is that a person's total hair population is not in the same phase of the hair growth cycle at the same time. Rather, a majority of hairs are in the anagen phase, a much smaller portion are in the telogen phase, and a tiny fraction are in the catagen phase at all times. This tendency for human hair to not grow in identical phases has been called a "mosaic" growth pattern, and it will play a part in the successful removal of unwanted hair, or in the treatment of hair loss.

Personal Hair Growth Cycles

Now that you know the basics of the hair growth process, we can delve into some personal variables that can determine or affect your own hair growth cycles. Most people don't fully realize that their own unique traits can affect the duration and process of their hair growth cycle!

A person's hair growth rates and results can be determined by many things:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Ethnicity
  • Hair color
  • Existing health conditions

Inherited traits like hair color and ethnicity factor largely into a person's hair growth. For example, some studies have consistently linked certain hair colors with a greater or lesser total hair count for multiple individuals. A correlation has also been found that ties hair color and ethnicity to hair density and texture. There have even been noted differences when comparing the standard length of the hair growth cycle among various ethnic groups. Reportedly, Asian individuals have longer growth cycles than Caucasians or African Americans, and Caucasians are more prone to balding than any other group. It's also highly likely that your hair growth cycle and growth rate will share similarities with those of your immediate relatives.

As far as age and gender go, numerous studies have linked age to hair growth rate. Scalp hair growth rates are much faster for youths than they are for the elderly. However, in a cruel twist of irony, older individuals do develop faster hair growth rates than children and teens—but strictly where undesirable body hair is concerned! Men also tend to have shorter hair growth cycles than women do, as well as experience thicker and/or darker hair growth on areas like the face.

Other factors that can affect your individual hair growth cycle include health-related problems, stress, thyroid or autoimmune diseases, and specific skin medications or regulatory hormone drugs. Some researchers also attribute a poor diet to certain issues with hair growth cycles and growth rates.

Hair Growth Cycles and Laser Hair Removal

Hair growth cycles can have a large impact on the success of your chosen hair removal method, like laser hair removal. For one thing, your hair growth cycle can play a part in the length of results you experience through hair removal treatments. But mainly, your unique hair growth cycle will help determine the number of laser hair removal treatments you'll need to completely remove unwanted hair. How you ask?

Most laser hair removal patients are advised to undergo at least 6-8 treatment sessions, spaced apart over several months, to ensure that hair in all phases of the growth cycle are treated. However, if you're someone with a shorter than average growth phase, or with a lower-than-average percentage of hairs always in the growth phase, you may require more laser hair removal treatments than others.

Laser hair removal treatments can only effectively produce long-term hair reduction if the unwanted hair is treated during the anagen (growth) phase. During the catagen and telogen phases of the hair growth cycle, hair follicles have been disconnected from the dermal papilla—the real root point of new hair growth. It's essential that lasers treat unwanted hair that's attached to the dermal papilla to really create long-lasting hair removal.

If you're considering undergoing laser hair removal treatments in the near future—or you want more specific information about your hair growth cycle and how it relates to your hair removal choices—it's best to meet with a licensed hair removal provider near you. They can give you a personalized hair and skin analysis, and help you pinpoint the best hair removal treatment plan to complement your unique hair growth cycle!

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