The Dos and Don'ts of Laser Hair Removal

Wondering whether laser hair removal is right for you? Here are some answers to common questions about this popular procedure.

How does it work?

Powerful, controlled flashes of light are beamed onto the area with unwanted hair. The melanin pigment in the hair attracts the laser energy towards the follicle, heating it up and eventually destroying it.

What kind of hair can be removed?

Laser treatment can target any area of the body, except for near the eyes because of the risk. Common areas include the underarms, lip, bikini line, chest, and legs.

Who's a good candidate?

Laser hair removal is most effective on people with coarse, dark hair and light skin. Because of the way melanin attracts light energy, the contrast between the skin and hair allows the energy to focus on the hair follicle and kill it. However, laser therapy can be effective on other types of skin and hair as well—it just may require more treatments.

Does it hurt?

It can, particularly during the first session. Coarse, dark hair will be the most painful, since the laser energy will create the most heat in that area. As the hair becomes more fine the pain will lessen in subsequent treatments. Sometimes numbing ointments are applied to ease the sensation.

How many treatments does it take?

Usually, you'll need 4-7 monthly sessions to achieve total hair removal on a particular area. Because of the hair growth cycle, it's impossible to kill all your hair follicles at once. However, you can still shave during the process so you don't have to live with unwanted hair.

Is it permanent?

For most people the hair removal will be permanent after the treatments are complete. However, approximately 10-20% require maintenance sessions once or twice a year. And there are a few -- usually people with blond or white hairs -- that will experience complete regrowth.

Is it expensive?

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons estimates the average cost at about $429 per treatment. However, costs vary greatly based on where you live and what kind of hair removal you're having done. This is also just the doctor's fee, so you should make sure to get a complete estimate that includes any additional fees before you begin the treatment series. Remember that laser hair removal is an elective procedure, so it's very unlikely that insurance will cover any of the costs.

What should I ask my doctor?

Make sure that your doctor has experience using the laser system he'll be working with on the area where you're getting treatment. Also, you should discuss potential side-effects, preparation needs, and expectations for your particular situation.

What are the side effects?

A small change to the skin pigment can occur during the treatment, but these are usually temporary and only last for a few months post-procedure. Blisters and burns can also occur. These side effects occur most frequently in darker skinned patients.

How do I prepare for the appointment?

Stay out of the sun—you can't be treated with a tan or sunburn. Bleaching, waxing, and plucking should be stopped a few weeks before you start treatment, though you can shave, ideally not too closely.

What's the difference between this and electrolysis? What makes one better?

Electrolysis is literally a hair by hair procedure, so it can be quite time consuming. It can also cause more skin irritation. However, it is permanent, and for certain types of skin and hair, can be a good choice. Your doctor can help you decide on the best choice for you.




The Hair Removal Journal

The American Academy of Dermatology