Does laser hair removal hurt?

Not that it would change my mind about having the treatment done but more as a heads up beforehand, so I know what to expect. I've been dealing with unwanted facial hair for about a decade and have undergone all of the procedures that have been available. Some of have been more painful than others but painful might even be too strong a term. It's usually a stinging or pinching feeling. Not unbearable just temporarily unpleasant. Is that an accurate description of how the laser feels? How do your patients generally describe their experience with this method of hair removal vis a vis pain? I appreciate your input.


F, 43, New York

Tags:woman age 35-44 unwanted hair pain laser facial hair

How much pain you'll experience depends on a number of factors. These include:

The experience of the laser operator.
Whether or not your operator is using current generation/new lasers.
What kind of pre- and post-session precautions are being taken. 
Your personal pain threshold.

Everyone experiences pain a little differently, but most patients say the pain feels something like little pin pricks or like being snapped with an elastic band.

When you choose a clinic for your laser hair removal, it's important to choose a reputable clinic run by a board-certified dermatologist. An experienced laser operator will not only give you the best treatment with the most up to date laser equipment, but will use the best pre- and post-treatment care options to minimize pain.

It's also important to stay away from the sun before your treatment. Tanning can have a negative effect on your treatment so stay away from the sun as well as from self-tanning creams and tanning salons. Paler skin (as pale as naturally possible for your skin) and high-contrast easy to see hair follicles will make for the most pain-free experience.

It's not clear from your question which other treatments you've tried, but compared to a Brazilian wax (for example), laser treatment is generally far less painful. Many of our patients tell us that they are pleasantly surprised and had been concerned the pain was going to be much worse.

We frequently get questions regarding laser hair removal pain. Whether or not they are too painful depends on every patient's individual threshold, but the pain is usually very well tolerated. As you stated, you have already tried many other hair removal treatments. If you have already had your hair waxed then you have already experienced a more painful procedure than laser treatment.

The best description of the pain that I can give you is that it feels like you're being 'snapped' by an elastic band. The sensation of each zap lasts for a split second and is then replaced by the soothing sensation of our cooling system.

The pain factor can be higher for patients with darker skin, but there are a number of options we can employ in these cases.

We can apply a topical anesthetic prior to the treatment to numb the treatment area. For patients with dark skin we have also found that the GentleYAG laser is an excellent option.

After the procedure an aloe lotion is applied which has a cooling effect. Many dark-skinned patients tell us that they’d believed the pain from laser hair removal was going to be much worse.

Everyone's heard laser treatment horror stories about the experience being too painful. Frequently these reports are due to an untrained or unskilled laser operator who uses the wrong type of laser or the wrong setting. My advice is to visit a board-certified dermatologist for best practices and best results.

Laser hair removal is not a totally pain-free process. Most patients describe it as a ‘snapping sensation,’ similar to tiny pin pricks.

If you've already experienced other hair removal treatments, then you know that waxing can also be a very painful process. Most laser hair removal patients who have used bikini wax say waxing is a significantly more painful process.

Since waxing needs to be repeated every few weeks in order to maintain results, laser treatments make for a considerably easier solution to maintain over the long term. Laser hair removal doesn't offer truly permanent results but after your initial series of treatments, it will require very little effort to remain hair-free for years to come.

Hair that does grow back will come back very thin and sparse -- and in many cases the results are nearly permanent. Most patients require between four and six initial treatments each spread out over six weeks. After the initial round of treatments is complete, subsequent treatments (if necessary) can be scheduled as infrequently as once per year thereafter in order to maintain results.

Exactly how painful it is depends on a number of factors. The skill and experience of the laser operator, the amount of pigment in your skin, and the specific steps taken to minimize pain. 
Topical anesthetics may be applied to sensitive areas prior to the treatment in order to reduce sensation. Many lasers also include a special cooling device which blows freezing air over the treatment area and helps to minimize discomfort. We also apply an ice pack after treating each individual area and after each session we apply a soothing lotion.

If you're interested in a more permanent hair removal option than waxing I wouldn't let pain discourage you from getting laser hair removal treatments. This is a less painful procedure that requires fewer ongoing treatments. The most important consideration is to visit a well-reviewed, reputable clinic with experienced operators.

That's a very common concern.

Many patients are concerned that laser hair removal will be excessively painful, or that the treatment won't be worth it.

We have thousands of very satisfied patients who tell us the treatment was not only worth it, but that it represented a vastly preferable alternative to waxing and shaving. Hundreds of our patients have referred their friends and their friends’ friends -- you get the gist!

Just how much pain you'll experience depends on multiple factors. Generally speaking, patients with pale skin and coarse hair have the least amount of pain. Laser light operates on specific frequencies that react with targets of a specific color. The combination of pale skin and dark hair follicles makes for a very easy laser target and, consequently, a less painful procedure.

Before your procedure we apply a numbing cream. We also use lasers with built-in cooling systems that emit a cold burst of air onto the skin after each zap. Most of our patients describe the pain as something similar to being snapped by a rubber band.

The treatment time is also relatively short. A laser hair removal session can last as little as 10 minutes for the face and in as little as 30 minutes for a full leg.

If you're tired of shaving or waxing your legs, bikini area, or other areas, I encourage you to explore laser hair removal. Be sure to visit a board-certified dermatologist with up to date laser technology for the least amount of pain and the best results.

Laser hair removal with modern technology is very well tolerated.  Most patients describe the sensation as a snapping sensation like a rubber band.  The discomfort is very brief.  With your previous experience with other procedures I expect you will tolerate laser treatment very well.

Patients typically describe it as a "snap" feeling, much like a rubber band. You can ask your provider to pre-treat you with a topical numbing agent if that will ease any anxiety you may have over possible pain.  I will note that depending on your skin type, the settings for the laser will be adjusted higher (light skin) or lower (darker skin) and that will also be a factor in how the treatment feels.


Jack Peterson MD