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Original Investigation
December 2016

Gaseous and Particulate Content of Laser Hair Removal Plume

Author Affiliations
  • 1Wellman Center for Photomedicine, Department of Dermatology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston
  • 2Division of Dermatology, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles
  • 3Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston
  • 4Department of Environmental Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 5Chemical Instrumentation Center, Department of Chemistry, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts
JAMA Dermatol. 2016;152(12):1320-1326. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2016.2097
Key Points

Question  What is contained in the plume produced by laser hair removal?

Findings  In this study, 62 organic compounds were identified, including carcinogens and toxins. Three chemicals had estimated daily exposures that exceed Occupational Safety & Health Administration daily permissible limits, and ultrafine particles emitted without a smoke evacuator exceeded levels considered safe.

Meaning  The burning-hair plume that develops during laser hair removal should be considered a biohazard, warranting the use of smoke evacuators, good ventilation, and respiratory protection, especially for health care workers.


Importance  Potentially harmful chemicals are released when tissues are vaporized. Laser hair removal (LHR) causes heating and often vaporization of hairs, producing both a signature malodorous plume and visible particulates.

Objective  To characterize the chemical composition and quantify the ultrafine particle content of the plume generated during LHR.

Design, Setting, and Participants  In the laser center of a large academic hospital, discarded terminal hairs from the trunk and extremities were collected from 2 adult volunteers. The hair samples were sealed in glass gas chromatography chambers and treated with a laser. The laser plume was analyzed by gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC-MS). During LHR treatment, two 6-L negative pressure canisters were used to capture 30 seconds of laser plume, and a portable condensation particle counter was used to measure ultrafine particulates (<1 µm). Ultrafine particle concentrations were measured within the treatment room, within the waiting room, and outside the building.

Main Outcomes and Measures  The chemical content of the laser plume was analyzed with GC-MS and screened for aerosolized toxins using Environmental Protection Agency–certified methods. The ambient concentration of ultrafine particles during LHR was measured by condensation particle counters.

Results  Analysis with GC-MS identified 377 chemical compounds. Sixty-two of these compounds, of which 13 are known or suspected carcinogens and more than 20 are known environmental toxins, exhibited strong absorption peaks. During LHR, the portable condensation particle counters documented an 8-fold increase compared with the ambient room baseline level of ultrafine particle concentrations (ambient room baseline, 15 300 particles per cubic centimeter [ppc]; LHR with smoke evacuator, 129 376 ppc), even when a smoke evacuator was in close proximity (5.0 cm) to the procedure site. When the smoke evacuator was turned off for 30 seconds, there was a more than 26-fold increase in particulate count compared with ambient baseline levels (ambient baseline, 15 300 ppc; LHR without smoke evacuator for 30 seconds, 435 888 ppc).

Conclusions and Relevance  These findings establish the concern that the burning-hair plume often present during LHR should be considered a biohazard, warranting the use of smoke evacuators, good ventilation, and respiratory protection, especially for health care workers with prolonged exposure to LHR plume.