Study shows hair removal’s impact on amputees’ wellbeing

Jan 02, 2015, 5:00am

Nathanial Miletta, M.D., an Army captain stationed at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., and his colleagues set out to assess subjective changes, including how dermatologic conditions - such as infection, abcesses, itching, pain, irritation, pulling of leg hair - at the joint interface affect quality of life and whether laser hair removal can help.

A recent study suggests that laser hair removal can have a significant positive impact on quality of life for combat veterans who are amputees.

The study, led by dermatologist Nathanial Miletta, M.D., an Army captain stationed at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., notes that about 40 percent of military amputees report skin problems, particularly sweating and irritation at the joint interface. According to a news release from the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery - of which Dr. Miletta is a member - laser hair removal has been used for more than a decade to improve skin conditions for amputees. Dr. Miletta and his colleagues set out to assess subjective changes, including how dermatologic conditions - such as infection, abcesses, itching, pain, irritation, pulling of leg hair - at the joint interface affect quality of life and whether laser hair removal can help.

The researchers conducted a retrospective review of 10 veterans with a total of 16 prostheses. Each received one to six laser hair-removal treatments. Each patient completed before-and-after questionnaires asking the extent to which skin conditions affect their daily lives to evaluate post-treatment changes. The questionnaires assessed physical symptoms, emotions and functioning.

According to the ASDS news release, there was a statistically significant improvement in quality of life in all three categories, even for patients who had just one laser hair-removal treatment.

“In terms of the difference this makes in [the patients’] everyday lives, we see huge improvements,” Dr. Miletta is quoted as saying.

Patients reported these results:

  • Lessening of itching, pain, irritation, sweating and pulling of leg hair

  • Improvement in emotional factors such as frustration

  • Improved performance in exercise, work, and recreation

Dr. Miletta said the positive change in sweating was particularly notable-and unexpected. He noted that a decrease in sweating means less prosthetic slippage, which in turn increases the patient’s feeling of security.

The benefits of laser hair removal don’t apply just to military personnel, Dr. Miletta said.

“Overall, laser hair removal provides a great, cost-effective benefit to wounded warriors and could eventually be generalized to the civilian population with traumatic amputations with prostheses,” he said.

The researchers are planning a study to measure the differences in sweat reduction between laser hair removal, botulinum toxin injections and MiraDry treatments, used for hyperhydrosis. Many amputee patients receive botulinum toxin injections to reduce sweating, and the current study excluded patients who had undergone that procedure. 

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