Hair Removal is a time-consuming daily routine for many people. While traditional methods such as waxing, tweezing and shaving are effective for removing their hair, they do not provide long-term solutions for hair removal — never mind all those bumps, nicks and ingrown hairs! Over a decade ago, technological advancements led to the creation of a hair removal system that not only eliminated these annoying problems but also provided a long-term hair reduction solution: laser hair removal.
Let’s talk about the pros and cons of laser hair removal. The truth is, when it comes to removing body hair, you’ve got options—and you’ll want to consider all of them before making a decision. You can shave everything away quickly, but the hair grows back in a matter of days. Depilatory creams dissolve hair in minutes, but they have a tendency to smell like a wet dog mixed with gasoline. If you want more thorough hair removal, you might consider waxing or sugaring, which snatches the hair at the root. Hair doesn’t grow back for weeks, but waxing is a painful process, and it itches like hell when the hair grows back.
There are more long-lasting options, like electrolysis. Electrolysis uses a super-fine needle inserted into each hair follicle to send an electric current that kills the hair follicle. If you think it sounds painful, you’d be right, and a session can be time-consuming.
And that brings us to laser hair removal, a popular semi-permanent hair removal option that damages the hair follicle to minimize hair growth. “The laser detects the hair exclusively by focusing on the pigment cells that reside in the hair follicle,” Carlos A. Charles, M.D., founder of Derma di colour, told SELF in a previous interview. Once the melanin in the hair is targeted, the laser burns down the hair follicle and root. After a few sessions, you can throw away your razor and cancel your waxing appointments. But before you sign up for your first session (which will be one of many), we’ve broken down the pros and cons of laser hair removal.
Is laser hair removal safe?
The majority of people who use it find that laser hair removal is safe and well-tolerated. There do not appear to be any long-term health risks associated with the procedure.
However, some people may experience minor side effects after laser hair removal. People should ask their dermatologist to test how a small patch of skin reacts to the treatment before having it done on a larger area of skin.
People wishing to have laser hair removal treatment should always use a fully-qualified practitioner.
How you prepare
If you’re interested in laser hair removal, choose a doctor who’s board-certified in a specialty such as dermatology or cosmetic surgery and has experience with laser hair removal on your skin type. If a physician assistant or licensed nurse will do the procedure, make sure a doctor supervises and is available on-site during the treatments. Be cautious about spas, salons or other facilities that allow nonmedical personnel to do laser hair removal.
Before laser hair removal, schedule a consultation with the doctor to determine if this is an appropriate treatment option for you. Your doctor will likely do the following:
- Review your medical history, including medication use, history of skin disorders or scarring, and past hair removal procedures
- Discuss risks, benefits and expectations, including what laser hair removal can and can’t do for you
- Take photos to be used for before-and-after assessments and long-term reviews
At the consultation, discuss a treatment plan and related costs. Laser hair removal is usually an out-of-pocket expense.
The doctor will also offer specific instructions to prepare for laser hair removal. These might include:
Staying out of the sun.
Follow your doctor’s advice for avoiding sun exposure before and after treatment. Whenever you go out, apply a broad-spectrum, SPF30 sunscreen.
Lightening your skin.
Avoid any sunless skin creams that darken your skin. Your doctor might also prescribe a skin bleaching cream if you have a recent tan or darker skin.
Avoiding other hair removal methods.
Plucking, waxing and electrolysis can disturb the hair follicle and should be avoided at least four weeks before treatment.
Avoiding blood-thinning medications.
Ask your doctor about what medications, such as aspirin or anti-inflammatory drugs, to avoid before the procedure.
Shaving treatment area.
Trimming and shaving are recommended the day before laser treatment. It removes hair above the skin that can result in surface skin damage from burnt hairs, but it leaves the hair shaft intact below the surface.
What you can expect
Laser hair removal usually requires two to six treatments. The interval between treatments will vary depending on the location. On areas where hair grows quickly, such as the upper lip, the treatment might be repeated in four to eight weeks. On areas of slow hair growth, such as the back, the treatment might be every 12 to 16 weeks.
For each treatment, you’ll wear special goggles to protect your eyes from the laser beam. An assistant might shave the site again if necessary. The doctor might apply a topical anesthetic to your skin to reduce any discomfort during treatment.
During the procedure
The doctor will press a hand-held laser instrument to your skin. Depending on the type of laser, a cooling device on the tip of the instrument or a cool gel might be used to protect your skin and lessen the risk of side effects.
When the doctor activates the laser, the laser beam will pass through your skin to the hair follicles. The intense heat from the laser beam damages the hair follicles, which inhibits hair growth. You might feel discomfort, such as a warm pinprick, and you’ll likely feel a sensation of cold from the cooling device or gel.
Treating a small area, such as the upper lip, might take only a few minutes. Treating a larger area, such as the back, might take more than an hour.
After the procedure
You might notice redness and swell for the first few hours after laser hair removal.
To reduce any discomfort, apply ice to the treated area. If you have a skin reaction immediately after laser hair removal, the doctor might apply a steroid cream to the affected area.
After laser hair removal and between scheduled treatments, avoid sunlight and don’t use a tanning bed for six weeks or as directed by your doctor. Use a broad-spectrum SPF30 sunscreen daily.
Is laser hair removal painful?
For a couple of days after treatment, the affected skin may become red and tender. Many people describe the sensation as similar to a sunburn. The process itself, however, is typically not painful.
The Advantages Of Laser Hair Removal are as follows :
Minimal Side Effects
There are only a few minor side effects of laser hair removal, and those which do occur tend not to last more than a few days.
Once you begin your journey with laser hair removal, you will no longer need to spend your money on regular expensive wax treatments, depilatory creams, razors or other methods of hair removal. It may be more costly upfront, but over your life, you will save a huge amount by no longer having to spend on these procedures. You will also save yourself a great deal of time that would otherwise be spent shaving or waxing.
No Ingrown Hairs
Unlike waxing, threading and epilating, you will not have to put up with painful and unsightly ingrown hairs. Neither will you have to tolerate razor burns or irritation. Laser hair removal can even improve ingrown hairs.
No Waiting For Hair Growth
You don’t need surface hair for a laser hair removal treatment. You are encouraged to shave soon before your session to prevent you scorching any of the surface hair. This means that while you are waiting for the laser hair removal to work, you can remain fuzz-free, unlike with waxing and other hair removal methods where you must have long enough surface hair before a session.
Laser hair removal targets explicitly hairs right down at the follicle. This is a particular benefit over intense pulsed light (IPL) hair removal as the use of the laser makes it more suited to treating people with dark skin tones. The precision also means you should get results sooner.
Treatment times are fast, although speed will depend on the size of the area being treated, and you are likely to see results within the first few weeks. You can also think of the time you will save by not having to shave or have regular waxing.
Most patients can achieve permanent hair loss within 3 and 7 sessions, so laser hair removal is very successful.
The Disadvantages Of Laser Hair Removal is as follows :
Laser hair removal comes at a price. Clinics can charge very high prices, especially when compared to other forms of hair removal such as waxing; however, in the long run, you will save money. However, you can also find much cheaper alternatives, for example, by buying an at-home laser hair removal device. These cost a fraction of the price of the salon treatment, yet have the same technology, so they get the same results.
It Takes Time
You won’t see overnight results. The hairs will gradually fall out as they die in the weeks after the treatment session, and it may take a few sessions before you notice results. At least in the mean-time though, you can continue to shave until it takes effect!
Potential For Short-Term Changes In Pigment
Exposure to the light may result in the treated skin changing colour temporarily. However, this will usually resolve quickly.
No Tanning Before Or After Treatment
Before you have a laser hair removal treatment, it is important to make sure you have not got a tan. This means both a natural tan from sunlight and fake tan from a bottle.
Not Suitable For Everyone/Where
For example, you should not treat your eyebrows, genitals or men’s facial hair with laser hair removal. You may also find it is not effective on fine, peach fuzz hair. Those with dark hair against fair skin will notice the best results, and fairer hair will probably require you to have more sessions, but you can still get great results with the right equipment.
A few different side effects can appear after laser hair removal. Most side effects are minor and temporary. Anyone experiencing lasting side effects should consult their dermatologist.
Redness and irritation
Laser hair removal damages the follicles of the targeted hairs. The body reacts to this, and many people experience redness and irritation in the affected areas. The skin may tingle or feel tender, and may even appear to swell slightly.
The symptoms are usually short-lived. The affected area may look similar to skin that has just been waxed or plucked. Some dermatologists use a topical anesthetic to reduce how much a person’s skin reacts to the process.
Irritation should ease after the initial reaction, usually within a few hours of the treatment. Swelling and redness may respond well to ice packs or a cool bath.
Some people may experience skin crusting in the affected area. This is typically a minor issue but can be inconvenient.
Crusting can sometimes lead to scabbing or scarring. By taking care of the treated area after laser removal, such as by using a moisturizer, a person may prevent any lasting issues from this treatment.
Changes in skin colour
Some people may notice minor colour changes to the treated area of skin. It may get slightly darker or lighter, following laser hair removal.
People with lighter skin may be more likely to experience darker pigmentation changes. People with darker skin tones may be more prone to lighter pigmentation changes. These changes tend to fade away over time, and the skin returns to normal.
The hair removal procedure involves the use of powerful lasers. This means there is a risk of potentially serious eye injury, especially when a practitioner is working on a person’s face.
Both the person receiving the treatment and the practitioner should wear protective eye equipment to help prevent injury while the procedure is carried out.
Risk of skin infection
As with other cosmetic hair removal methods, damaging hair follicles with a laser can create an infection risk.
The affected area should be treated as a wound while it heals. People should report any signs of infection to a dermatologist.
Finally, they should not apply over-the-counter (OTC) antibiotic creams to large areas of skin if an infection arises.
Rare side effects
Less common side effects following laser hair removal can include the following:
Burns and blisters
There is a risk of burns and blisters if laser hair removal is not done correctly. When a qualified practitioner carries out the process, however, burns and blisters are rare. Laser hair removal uses high-heat lasers.
A practitioner may apply a cooling device to a person’s skin just before the laser is used. This helps to prevent the laser from burning the skin.
Scars are typically not a side effect of laser hair removal. However, if the practitioner makes an error, scarring can occur. This should not be an issue with most qualified practitioners.
Scars may also form if people do not care for the treated area correctly afterwards.
They should treat the affected skin as if it had been sunburned to avoid further damage. This means keeping it moisturized, protected from light, and checked regularly for signs of infection.
Laser hair removal during pregnancy
Experts do not recommend laser hair removal for people who are pregnant. This is because scientists have not carried out any human studies that prove the safety of laser hair removal during pregnancy.
Pregnancy causes hormonal changes in a person’s body. This can commonly cause extra hairs to grow in unwanted places. While this growth can be embarrassing, the hairs often go away on their own.
If the hairs do not go away unaided, a person may want to try laser treatment after their pregnancy. Doctors may ask them to wait a few weeks after giving birth before they have the treatment.
When to see a doctor
Anyone experiencing adverse reactions to laser hair removal should consider seeing their doctor. They can usually manage symptoms such as redness and swelling at home, but they should always report signs of skin infections to a doctor or dermatologist.
Reporting symptoms early allows for quick treatment and may help prevent any permanent changes.
Anyone trying to become pregnant should speak to their doctor before getting laser hair removal. A doctor can advise on other options, as laser hair removal often requires multiple sessions that should not be undertaken during pregnancy.
Overall, most people find they recover from laser hair removal very quickly with minimal side effects and no complications. The recovery period is so short that you could even have a session during your lunch break and return to work with no issues.