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Israeli expertise solves a hairy problemby Allison Kaplan Sommer July 17, 2005
Maybe it's because Israelis are always interested in
fields in which scientific and technological expertise can be harnessed
commercially, or maybe it's because they are a Middle Eastern and rather hairy
people, it's a problem that speaks to them personally.
But whatever the reason, Israel has been at the forefront of developing better
ways to keep our bodies smooth and free of unwanted fuzz.
The most legendary invention is the best-selling Epilady, an electric hair
removal system, developed by Yair Dar and Shimon Yahav in 1986 and manufactured
at Kibbutz Goshrim. The device took the US by storm in the late 1980s, after it
was introduced there by the three South African sisters, who acquired the US
distribution rights. Within six months of introducing Epilady into such high-end
department stores as Bloomingdale's and Marshall Field, it was one of hottest
products to hit the US personal-care market in years, with millions of devices
sold in its first few years on the market.
Though the Epilady still sells, the name of the hair removal game in the 21st
century is laser technology. And Israeli companies are active players in the
game, with hair removal representing just one part of a growing market segment -
non-invasive aesthetic procedures that are FDA-regulated and usually performed
by medical personnel. In addition to hair removal, these procedures include
reducing unsightly varicose veins, lesions, treating acne and other skin
problems, and wrinkle reduction.
Laser technology has been around since the 1970s. It was first used for hair
removal in the mid-90's safety and effectiveness concerns severely limited its
availability and affordability until recent years.
"There were limitations for its use with various kinds of skin and hair,"
explains David Shlachet, Chief Financial Officer of Syneron, an Israeli company
that has quickly become a leading force in selling devices that remove unwanted
hair and perform other cosmetic procedures to US doctors since its establishment
five years ago.
"Laser technology is essentially based on absorbing optical energy by specific
colors - which works best when you have contrast -- dark hair against light skin
- but it is much more difficult when the skin is very dark or the hair is very
light and there is not enough contrast. Very dark skinned people are a
particularly difficult group to work with effectively," he told ISRAEL21c.
After many years went by without any significant breakthroughs in cosmetic laser
technology, an Israeli scientist named Dr. Shimon Eckhouse developed a technique
called IPL or Intensive Pulse Light - which allowed more flexibility in laser
use and widened the number of procedures it could be used for. Machines using
this technique were sold by Eckhouse's first company, which was later sold and
evolved into the company called Lumenis - which is still a force in the laser
hair removal market in the US (Those who are in the business are careful to
refer to 'permanent hair reduction' and not 'removal' as per the direction of
Eckhouse subsequently left the company and became one of the founders of Syneron,
established in 2000. Teaming up with new collaborators, Eckhouse then developed
what the company calls 'the third generation' of aesthetic laser and light
Their patented technology is called Elos - a combined energy technology that
uses Bi-Polar Radio Frequency and optical energy (either laser or IPL.)
"Using Elos is safer than using pure optical energy, and offers better efficacy;
this expanded the range of applications," said Shlachet.
The company says that its technique offers safer, more effective, permanent hair
reduction from all parts of the body. It can better treat those with
light-colored hair or dark-colored skin.
The combined effect of the Bi-Polar Radio Frequency and Diode Laser energies
allows the use of less overall optical energy (when compared to light or
laser-only devices), increasing the safety of the device and causing less
"It can be effectively used on dark-skinned people and very blond people with
light hair and light skin -- and it is safer and more effective for them than
laser or IPL alone," claims Shlachet.
The company's devices, manufactured in the north of Israel, started to sell
quickly after they hit the market in late 2001. The Syneron companies in North
America are wholly owned; there are subsidiaries in Germany and Austria, which
operate through distributors in 41 countries.
In the US, the company has a sales staff of more then 40. Shlachet says that the
company is "one of the leaders" in market share for laser hair removal - it is
hard to measure, he says, since the laser platforms have multiple uses and not
all of the companies share their sales information.
It is a busy and highly competitive market, but it is also growing. "The market
is growing; there are more doctors and clinics and the number of procedures are
increasing by 20-25 percent per year. People care more and more about the way
they look, and getting hair removed by laser is becoming more socially
acceptable," says Shlachet.
He notes that between 30-40 of hair removal clients and other aesthetic
treatment in the U.S. are men. Another reason for its growth: "With the advance
of non-invasive technology, it's become a lunch-break procedure. You can go to a
doctor's office or clinic, get it done, and then go back to work."
Another factor that is driving sales is the growing number of doctors interested
in performing such procedures. In the United States, only doctors are authorized
to purchase the laser equipment and perform the procedures. Until now, the
doctors doing this were nearly exclusively dermatologists and plastic surgeons.
But as it becomes more popular and lucrative, companies like Syneron report that
more general practitioners and other specialists like OB/GYNs are entering the
There are six publicly traded companies in the United States selling hair
removal devices and more than 10 private companies. Of the six public companies,
two are Israeli: Lumenis and Syneron, traded on NASDAQ.
Most of the companies, like Syneron, sell different devices for various
aesthetic procedures. Syneron sells six platforms, and each platform is capable
of being used for a number of applications, including acne and other skin
treatment, wrinkle reduction, and cellulite treatment.
Syneron's primary Israeli competitor in the US marketplace is its predecessor
Lumenis, which markets devices using lasers and IPL light sources to reduce
unwanted hair. In addition, it manufactures different types of medical equipment
for various types of laser surgery, both for regular medical needs, and in
veterinarian's offices on pets.
Another Israeli force in the hair removal arena is a privately-held company
called Radiancy, which focuses on making laser and light technology hair removal
more affordable and easily available by developing smaller and less expensive
Until now, according to the company's website, existing laser technology for
hair removal has forced current systems to be cumbersome and expensive and the
capital investment has kept the price high for the consumer.
Radiancy claims that its SpaTouch product is the only system of its kind to be
cleared by the FDA for self-use by the patient. Radiancy's corporate
headquarters is located in Orangeburg, New York, with research and development
facilities in Israel.
Syneron, which also has its headquarters in Israel - something which gives it an
edge in the field, says Shlachet.
"Growth is our sector is 15 to 20 percent per annum," he noted. "But because
it's a mature industry, not a new industry, you have to be innovative to move
ahead. The reason we had such early success was that after 12 years with no
innovations we came in with a new technology."
What continues to give the Israelis their edge, he is convinced, is the
availability and price of local brainpower. "We have a great advantage over our
competitors by being based in Israel. Every dollar spent on research and
development in Israel gives us about 60 percent more output in Israel than it
would if it were spent in Boston or Silicon Valley."
A nonprofit, nonpolitical organization dedicated to informing Americans about
Israel beyond the conflict.
Visit ISRAEL21c HERE
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