Laser in-home shaver market not clean-cut

PLEASANTON, CA--Sixteen years after it says its scientists invented LightSheer, an in-office hair-removal laser device, TRIA Beauty is offering the TRIA Laser Hair Removal System--calling it the first and only FDA-cleared laser hair removal system available for at-home use.

PLEASANTON, CA--Sixteen years after it says its scientists invented LightSheer, an in-office hair-removal laser device, TRIA Beauty is offering the TRIA Laser Hair Removal System--calling it the first and only FDA-cleared laser hair removal system available for at-home use. But is it really the “first and only FDA-cleared” device as the manufacturer claims on its Web site? Much of that depends on who is winning the patent wars, and at the moment, Palomar Medical Technologies (Burlington, MA) is looking pretty good in that area.

In late August 2009, press releases said that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office confirmed the validity of all claims in its re-examination of the second of two optical hair removal technology patents from Palomar. The office upheld Palomar’s first patent in June and affirmed 14 of the second patent’s existing claims (the other eight claims were not under dispute) and two more it added for the re-examination.

Palomar is suing Syneron (Yokneam, Israel) for willful infringement of the just-affirmed patent and both Candela (Wayland, MA) and Syneron for willful infringement of both patents (Candela and Syneron announced they would merge in September 2009). With both cases having been stayed pending the outcomes of the patent office re-examinations, Palomar said it requested that both suits start up again. In late June 2009, Palomar also brought a patent infringement suit against TRIA Beauty, alleging it violated one of the two patents.

Joseph Caruso, Palomar’s CEO, said that his company was the first to land FDA approval for a device using the technology, the first to bring a high-powered optical hair removal device to market, and the first to land FDA approval for a similar, over-the-counter device for the consumer market. However, Palomar currently offers only in-office laser hair-removal products, despite attempts at non-exclusive licenses.

Commercialization gets ‘hairy’

For permanent hair reduction, Palomar offers the StarLux 500 Laser and Pulsed Light Platform working with the LuxR (650–1200 nm, 46 x 16 mm spot size, 45 J/cm2 fluence) and LuxY (525–1200 nm, 46 x 16 mm spot size, 48 J/cm2 fluence) handpieces to remove hair from large areas, with other models having smaller spot sizes and higher fluence values for small areas of the body, for people of all skin types. However, these are in-office hair-removal systems. Back in 2008, Palomar entered into a non-exclusive license agreement with Procter & Gamble for an at-home hair-removal system (and even received FDA approval for it in late 2006), but the system was never commercialized.

Syneron currently has in-office products that use elos Technology, a combination of light energy to target the hair follicle followed by and RF (radio frequency) signal that provides maximum heating and termination of the hair follicle; Candela also offers in-office products; but to date, neither have an at-home system. So as the patent wars continue to rage, consumers are probably more concerned with knowing just what in-home laser hair-removal products are available, and more importantly, how much they cost and whether or not they really work.

Does it work?

The TRIA Laser Hair Removal System (LHRS) for at-home use (and currently the only available at-home system) is priced at $595. Mark Weckwerth, executive VP for TRIA Beauty, says the device is a little smaller than a typical hair dryer, weighing 1.36 lbs, and measuring 8 x 4.5 x 3 inches. It contains an AlGaAs (aluminum gallium arsenide) laser diode array at 810 nm and produces about 40 W with five output levels of 6, 8, 12, 16, and 22 J/cm2 with a 10 mm spot size. The class I laser will not cause retinal damage at any viewing distance.

Available at TRIABeauty.com as well as on QVC, QVC.com, and at Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Bergdorf Goodman, STUDIO at Fred Segal, Bliss Spas, and other select physician offices, the TRIA LHRS works by targeting the dark pigment in the hair. The laser and the dark pigment together generate heat that quickly disables the hair follicle, causing the hair to gradually fall out and stop growing back. Because hair grows in cycles, the TRIA Web site says individuals need one TRIA laser treatment every other week for the first 3 months, then one treatment per month for 3–5 months afterwards to achieve the best hair-free results possible (claiming you will be hair-free for good!).

Contrast this $595 price with the estimated “price of a small car” to complete the required salon visits according to a customer testimonial on TRIA’s Web site (and according to data from hairremovaljournal.org that explains how a course of five professional laser hair-removal treatments at a salon can cost between $1750 and $4250 per body area), and TRIA Beauty just may have a winning product. And once you are hair free, you can give your product to another deserving family member or sell it on eBay!

--Gail Overton

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