Complete Guide To Laser Hair Removal: Techniques, Risks, and Results
Table of Contents
- Quick Facts
- What is laser hair removal?
- Where can you get laser hair removal?
- Who benefits from laser hair removal?
- Is laser hair removal permanent?
- Am I a good candidate for laser hair removal?
- Laser hair removal for men
- Laser hair removal prices
- Types of laser hair removal
- Risks and side effects
- Choosing a reputable laser hair removal clinic
- Your first consultation: questions to ask
- How many treatments will I need?
- Preparing for laser hair removal
- What happens in a laser treatment session?
- Home laser hair removal devices
- Frequently asked questions
- How many types of laser are used for hair removal?
- What is the best type of laser for my complexion?
- Does laser hair removal hurt?
- How much does laser hair removal cost?
- Are there any dangers associated with laser hair removal?
- How much hair can I expect to lose?
- What is the difference between home laser hair removal and laser hair removal in a clinic?
- Find a Hair Removal Technician
- Laser hair removal is a permanent solution to unwanted hair. Following four to six sessions with a qualified laser hair removal technician, most hair follicles in the targeted area are left damaged and unable to grow new hairs.
- There are four popular types of laser hair removal: Ruby, Alexandrite, Diode, and Nd:YAG lasers. Each offers patients certain advantages and disadvantages in terms of comfort and recovery speed.
- In some cases, laser treatments can cause skin pigmentation issues. As a result, certain laser hair removal options are better suited to patients with lighter skin tones.
- While some patients experience redness or other mild side effects, most are able to immediately return to their normal routines.
- In the weeks following treatment, hair may appear to continue growing. However, this is simply the last of the residual hair in the area. Following hair shedding, fewer new hairs should be visible.
- Patients must wait four to six weeks between treatment sessions as this allows any remaining hair to grow. Once remaining hair is visible, your technician will be able to better target trouble areas.
- Following your final session, touch-ups are typically required once or twice per year to maintain full results.
- Most of the risks associated with laser hair removal are temporary and cosmetic, such as skin redness, small bumps, and rashes in the treated area.
- Permanent skin discoloration may occur as a result of laser hair removal. Hypopigmentation is more likely to be an issue for patients with darker skin tones.
- Mild pain and swelling can also occur during and following the procedure.
- The price of laser hair removal varies depending on your technician, where the procedure is performed, and how many sessions are required.
- That said, the average cost of a laser hair removal session is $430.
- Most patients require four to six sessions for optimal results, making the cost of laser hair removal between $1,700 and $2,600 in most cases.
Laser hair removal near me
- Working with a qualified laser hair removal technician is the best way to avoid painful skin irritation and unsightly permanent skin discoloration.
- An experienced technician will be able to determine which type of laser is best suited to your needs.
In the ever-expanding spectrum of hair removal techniques, laser hair removal offers safe, enduring results, meaning you can throw away your razors, wax and depilatory creams for good.
What is laser hair removal?
The battle to banish unwanted body hair has long marked human history. Ancient Mesopotamian women used copper razors to attain smooth, hairless skin, Samoans sharpened shells to rid themselves of underarm hair, and Middle Eastern women boiled sugar into a type of wax to achieve a hair-free look.
Here in the 21st century, of course, hair removal techniques have advanced considerably, with laser hair removal representing the new cutting edge, promising to permanently reduce hair growth.
Laser hair removal is a cosmetic medical procedure that applies the principle of photothermolysis. A laser beam -- an intense, pulsating beam of light -- passes through the skin, along the hair shaft, and is absorbed and converted into heat energy at the hair follicle.
The intense heat from the laser damages the root, inhibiting new hair growth.
Where can you get laser hair removal?
Laser hair removal can be performed by technicians with specialized training at medi-spas, plastic surgery clinics or in a doctor’s office.
While all laser hair removal machines apply the same technological principles, the length of the laser wavelength varies depending on the machine being used. Short wavelengths are better suited to people with lighter complexions, while longer wavelengths are more effective removing hair from people who have darker skin tones.
Patients undergoing laser hair removal require on average 4 to 8 treatments every 4 to 6 weeks to achieve the desired result, although the exact number of sessions will also depend on your personal characteristics, such as how hirsute you are.
A session may be as quick as one minute for an area like the upper lip, to approximately 40 minutes for a larger surface area like the upper back.
Who benefits from laser hair removal?
In the ever-expanding spectrum of hair removal techniques, laser hair removal offers safe, enduring results, meaning you can throw away your razors, wax and depilatory creams for good.
According to a report by the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, laser, or pulsed light hair removal, was the third most popular non-surgical cosmetic procedure of 2015, with 1,136,834 Americans opting for the treatments.
However, laser hair removal may not work for everyone. While the treatments can provide a permanent reduction of hair growth for many individuals, particularly those possessing the ideal combination of light skin and dark hair, others can walk away from the process profoundly disappointed.
Is laser hair removal permanent?
The only permanent and guaranteed hair removal technique at present is electrolysis, a process that needs to target each hair follicle individually, and as such is highly impractical when targeting larger areas.
Comparatively, laser hair removal is a much more efficient, not to mention less painful, method to achieve similarly satisfactory results.
Am I a good candidate for laser hair removal?
Almost everyone can enjoy the benefits of laser hair removal. Professional athletes like swimmers, gymnasts, runners and bodybuilders can remain free of unwanted hair for longer periods, while patients suffering from polycystic ovarian syndrome and hirsutism can also be relieved of excess body hair this way.
People with light to medium complexions and medium to dark hair are universally recognized as the best candidates for laser hair removal. This is because the laser is attracted to the darker pigment (melanin) in their hair.
Individuals with dark or very tanned skin and light colored (or white) hair are more difficult to treat, but still obtain satisfactory results when in the hands of an expert technician using the appropriate laser and wavelength.
If you’re contemplating laser hair removal, the following outlines the criteria characterizing “good” candidates:
- You have realistic expectations.
There’s been some backlash lately against laser hair removal operators who claim to “permanently remove” hair. The FDA has ruled laser hair removal operators are not allowed to make such claims, and must instead advertise a “permanent reduction in hair growth.”
With this in mind, it’s important to remember that permanent removal of every single hair in a targeted area is unlikely. Experts argue that to be considered successful, laser hair removal treatments should remove 15-30% of unwanted hair per session, resulting in an 80-98% reduction upon completion of the treatments.
For these reasons, it’s important to be recognize that there’s no guarantee laser hair removal will necessarily work for you. It’s unlikely, sure, but still something you should be aware of.
- You have researched the most appropriate technician.
As an emerging cosmetic treatment, laser hair removal is not uniformly subject to rigorous regulation across the United States. Laser hair removal technicians may have undergone different standards of training, while some providers will have far more experience with a wider variety of machines than others.
These inconsistencies sometimes result in novice operators delivering laser hair removal technology using less powerful settings than should be applied, ultimately delivering poor outcomes.
Dr Harvey H. Jay, a New York-based board-certified dermatologist and expert in laser hair removal techniques, explains:
“The expert operator clearly delivers better and safer results using the system with the widest range of settings. The amateur operator should treat patients only under the close supervision of an expert physician until he or she masters the wide range of potential settings. Additional training and experience produce better results.”
When seeking a laser hair removal clinic, be sure to ask about their technicians’ qualifications and level of experience. And if they’re not doctors, find out if they’ll be supervised by a licensed physician during the procedure.
You need to take care of yourself, so always advocate for the highest level of treatment.
- You understand that the results depend on your skin tone.
The success of laser hair removal depends on how easily the laser can target hair follicles. Individuals with dark hair and light skin often enjoy better results because light skin does not pose an obstacle for absorption, and dark coarse hairs absorb the most energy.
Nowadays, however, there are four types of laser used for hair removal (Ruby, Alexandrite, Diode and Nd:YAG), with each designed to treat individuals with different skin tones.
The Fitzpatrick Scale of skin tones outlines the characteristics of each skin type: individuals with skin tones I and II are good candidates for the Ruby laser, individuals with skin tones I-IV can be treated with the Alexandrite or Diode laser, and individuals with skin tones I-VI can be treated with the Nd-YAG laser.
- The area to be treated is large.
Unlike electrolysis, which must treat each hair follicle individually, laser hair removal is a faster method when treating larger areas like the back, upper and lower arms, or legs. A few laser sessions are often recommended prior to electrolysis in order to thin out the hair of individuals with dense hair growth.
- You are prepared for some discomfort.
Imagine the sensation of a rubber band snapping against your skin for 25-40 minutes. Many individuals liken the feeling of laser treatments to this. If that sounds tolerable to you, then the procedure shouldn’t be too uncomfortable.
However, if you have a lower pain threshold and would prefer following the path of least resistance, some laser machines come with cooling or protection mechanisms that deliver the laser beam while shielding the skin from the momentary bursts of heat responsible for the brief pinching (or stinging) sensation.
In some cases, a topical anesthesia is applied prior to treatment in order to minimize any potential pain.
- You can afford the treatment and are aware of its limitations.
Laser hair removal often requires approximately 6-8 sessions over a given period of time, potentially 12 months or longer.
As such, it’s a medical procedure that can prove costly, and sometimes may not even produce the desired results. Therefore it’s prudent to evaluate your financial situation before committing to the treatments, and take the time to consider if you’re prepared to deal with the expense should it not work out the way you had hoped.
As is often the case, a frank discussion with your laser technician should help to inform your decision. Requesting to see before and after photos of patients with similar hair and skin coloring to yours should give you a pretty good idea of the results you can expect.
Laser hair removal for men
Men are often overlooked with respect to personal grooming, particularly when it comes to treating body hair.
However, some males feel every bit as self-conscious about their excess body hair as women do: hirsute backs and shoulders prevent many men from baring their bodies. Unwanted body hair can have a detrimental effect on a man’s confidence, especially as nowadays many women prefer smooth chests.
As gender confines become more fluid and social norms change, it is becoming increasingly acceptable for men to invest in cosmetic treatments to improve their appearance and give their self-confidence a lift. Consequently, laser hair removal has become the second most popular non-surgical cosmetic procedure among American men today.
“Most men don’t necessarily want all their body hair removed, but increasingly they do want it thinned out, on their backs and chests, for example,” explains New York-based dermatologist Dr. David Goldberg, who regularly performs laser hair removal on men.
Some of the more common areas where laser hair removal is conducted on men include the back, chest, shoulders, arms and abdomen. Some men also receive laser treatments to remove unwanted hair from the nose, ears, back of the neck and below the jaw line.
Laser hair removal prices
The American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) estimates the average cost of laser hair removal to be approximately $429 per session.
However, many factors impact the final price of your laser hair removal treatment. Ultimately, your unique personal characteristics will be the greatest determinant of how much laser hair removal will cost you. For example, the easier it is for the laser to work with your skin tone and hair color, the cheaper your treatment will be.
If you want to break down the cost, ask your provider what they charge and what these costs are based on -- is it hair density, the number of pulses per treatment, the time taken for each session? These are all questions you can raise at your first consultation.
Some of the main factors influencing the cost of laser hair removal include:
- Geographic location
Many people are surprised to learn that prices for laser hair removal vary depending on geographic location. In large cities with fewer treatment facilities, the cost might be more expensive because of a greater demand for the procedure. Essentially, it goes back to the rules of supply and demand.
- Type of clinic
The type of clinic also influences the pricing. Generally, you should expect to pay more at a dermatologist or plastic surgeon’s office as they’re more likely to offer laser hair removal as a side treatment. As a general rule, specialized laser hair removal clinics are more affordable.
- Hair density
The density of your hair will also figure into the final cost of your treatment. The thicker your hair follicles, the greater the likelihood you’ll need more and/or longer laser treatments to successfully reduce growth.
Although uncommon, some clinics base their pricing on the density of their patient’s hair, particularly with men who are having the hair on their backs removed.
- Skin tone
Although laser hair removal can now treat all skin tones, individuals with darker complexions are more likely to require additional sessions in order to achieve their desired result, which in turn means a higher cost.
- Body area
Laser hair removal can be applied to practically any part of the body: the calves, thighs, upper or lower arms, bikini line, the back, even the face. Obviously, smaller or more contained areas cost less than larger areas, therefore you can expect to pay more for bikini line hair removal than chin hair removal.
- Specialist pricing
Finally, you have to take your technician’s level of expertise and training into consideration. Technicians with medical degrees may charge more because they’re able to use a wider range of laser hair removal machines successfully.
If, after considering all these options and talking with a specialist, you find yourself worried about the cost of the treatments, there are options available to render laser more affordable. Many clinics offer financing plans that allow you to pay in installments over a given period of time.
Other clinics may offer discounts for referring a friend, and in some cases you might even be able to negotiate a discount in exchange for paying everything upfront.
When you consider laser hair removal as a lifetime investment, it’s far more cost effective than waxing, shaving or other epilation methods. Not to mention all that time you save.
Types of laser hair removal
The most common lasers used for hair removal are the Ruby, Alexandrite, Diode, and Nd:YAG lasers. IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) is often mistaken as a laser hair removal technique, but is in fact quite different.
Laser hair removal machines all utilize the same technology to target hair follicles, but differ in the wavelength of laser energy delivered along with the pulse width and duration.
It’s the length of the wavelength delivered by the pulse that damages the hair follicle. Light energy is absorbed by the melanin of the hair follicle, generating and conducting heat to the germ cells of the hair, the main target of the treatment.
The Ruby laser (also known as Epilaser) was the first cosmetic laser system used for hair removal. It has the lowest wavelength, at 694.3nm, and emits a deep red light that is well absorbed by patients with light skin and fine, light colored hair, but is not suitable for patients with darker skin.
The Ruby laser is distinguished by a sapphire hand piece that directs heat away from the skin before, during and after each laser pulse. Laser pulses occur every two seconds, meaning there is less pain as the laser is not constantly projecting onto the skin.
Some of the more popular types of Ruby laser include: Palomar E2000, RubyStar, and EpiPulse Ruby.
- Less painful than other laser hair removal systems
- Built-in cooling system to reduce skin irritation
- Appropriate for individuals with lighter skin tones
- Long term hair removal can be achieved
- If there is any regrowth, it is most likely sparser and finer than before
- Ruby lasers treat comparatively small areas compared to other lasers
- It is not suitable for people with darker complexions (skin tones III-VI)
- The slow laser pulse repetition rate (which means it is less painful) also means a longer treatment time is necessary
- There is a risk of burns, scars, swelling and skin discoloration
- The technology is somewhat outdated as newer laser devices have since emerged on the market
Diode lasers are one of the newer additions to the laser hair removal family. Diode lasers are somewhat different to other laser hair removal machines because of the way in which the laser is generated; diodes or semiconductors are combined to form the light source of the laser.
It operates between 800 - 1000 nm wavelengths, and as such has enough flexibility to be manipulated to suit the needs of the patient. Longer wavelengths are less selective for melanin than shorter wavelengths, but also avoid melanin absorption by the skin.
The diode system is most frequently administered on patients with darker skin types, or thick, dark, coarse hair. For this reason, it’s often used on men who are seeking laser hair removal for their chest and back hair.
Some of the most popular diode laser hair removal machines currently in use include the Apex 800, Epistar, F1 Diode, Laserlite, Light Sheer, MeDioStar and SLP 100.
- Faster laser repetition rates
- Can effectively and quickly treat large areas of skin
- Faster recovery than other lasers
- Tunable laser wavelength that can be customized to the patient’s needs
- A longer laser wavelength means it is suitable for darker skin types (Fitzpatrick skin tones I-IV)
- Safer and deeper penetration into the skin to target hair follicles
- Skin discoloration (although this is often transient)
- Diode lasers have been linked to urticaria (hives, including rashes and swelling)
- No available research on long term results
Nd: YAG laser
Nd: YAG lasers operate at 1064 nm, the longest wavelength of all hair removal lasers currently on the market. This makes them the most effective laser for all skin types, and because of their high repetition rate, suitable for treating large areas of skin.
The active substance in Nd:YAG hair removal systems is carbon, which is safe with strong absorptive properties. Carbon lotion is first applied to the skin, which generally penetrates the hair follicle, and the laser then targets the carbon during treatment.
Some of the most popular Nd:YAG laser hair removal machines include Athos, CoolGlide, Lyra, Medlite IV and Varia.
- This system is appropriate and effective on all skin types, including Asian and darker complexions (Fitzpatrick skin tones I-VI)
- Studies have shown regrowth occurs at a delayed rate when compared to other laser hair removal machines
- Large areas of skin can be treated quickly
- Patients generally report higher levels of discomfort
- The carbon may spread from the hair follicle, discoloring the skin
- Uncertain results for people with light, white or fine hair
- The risk of burns, scars, swelling and redness post-treatment
Intense Pulsed Light (IPL)
Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) is commonly mistaken as a form of laser hair removal. While not an actual laser, it does function similarly by creating a burst of light which damages hair follicles in much the same way.
That being said, IPL is unique because it can deliver hundreds more wavelengths than laser, which is confined to a narrow spectrum of light. This makes IPL suitable for all skin types and hair colors.
IPL engages filters so there is minimal damage to the skin while the optimum wavelengths for the patient are being delivered. It is more widely available than laser hair removal and tends to be the more popular treatment.
IPL does, however, require a greater understanding and level of expertise when administering the treatment to suitably adjust it to the patient’s needs.
Some of the more widespread IPL machines are EpiLight, Quantum, PhotoDerm, and Aculight.
- IPL is cheaper than other forms of laser hair removal
- IPL is effective on all skin types and hair colors (with the exception of hair with no pigment)
- IPL is safe and poses less risk of damage to the surrounding skin tissue than laser
- IPL efficiently covers larger areas of skin
- IPL is more flexible and adaptabel than laser as there is no set wavelength
- Some people experience mild pain and discomfort in response to IPL treatment
- Results may be less effective on individuals with white, blonde or red hair
- Skin discoloration can occur, resulting in patches of dark or light colored skin
- The system cannot be used on skin that has recently been exposed to the sun
- At present, there are no long-term studies documenting the effectiveness or safety of IPL
Risks and side effects
First approved by the FDA for cosmetic use in 1996, laser hair removal is generally considered to be a safe non-surgical procedure. Many laser hair removal devices have since been cleared for use by the FDA.
Nevertheless, there are still some risks and complications you should know about before committing to laser.
One large study, surveying 900 subjects and published by the American Academy of Dermatology in 1999, identified the following risks resulting from treatment:
- Reddening and irritation of the skin
- Tiny bumps or swelling in the treated area
- Folliculitis (infection of the hair follicles)
- Hyperpigmentation (excessive amounts of melanin in the skin causing discoloration)
- Hypopigmentation (absence of melanin in the skin, causing whitening)
- Crusting (occurring as a result of burns and blistering)
- Rashes of purple spots (purpura)
- Skin erosion
Many of these side effects are transitory and superficial in nature. All patients should expect a temporary alteration in the skin’s appearance that which will subside soon after treatment. The study cited that at least 97% of patients experience mild reddening and swelling following a laser hair removal session, with 81% experiencing pain as a result of treatment.
With respect to hyper and hypopigmentation, if the treatment is immediately discontinued the side effect will most likely be temporary and the skin will return to its natural state of pigmentation.
One of the rarest yet most serious complications possibly resulting from laser hair removal is damage to the retina, which may result in blindness. Both doctor and patient must wear specialized safety goggles to protect their eyes from the laser, because laser energy is absorbed as heat by colored tissue (such as the retina in the eye). For this reason doctors generally avoid laser hair removal treatment close to the eye socket.
Many of the risks or side effects of laser hair removal outlined here can be minimized if the treatment is conducted by a trained professional, with due care and diligence taken before and after the procedure.
Choosing a well-accredited clinic and doctor is critically important, as the more experience and knowledge your doctor has, the more certain you can be of receiving a safe, successful treatment.
Choosing a reputable laser hair removal clinic
Choosing a reputable clinic to carry out your laser hair removal treatment is vital. The expertise of your doctor and their understanding of how to achieve the best results for you can mean the difference between a little reduction and a permanent reduction in hair growth.
Making rushed decisions or automatically opting for the cheapest operator could potentially waste a significant amount of your time and money.
- Choose the type of clinic you want to be treated in.
Laser hair removal treatment should ideally take place in a medical setting, such as a laser hair removal clinic, a dermatologist’s office, or a plastic surgery clinic. Nowadays, laser hair removal is ubiquitous and also offered in local hair and beauty salons -- even tattoo parlors.
Although initial prices are often reduced in non-medical settings, in the long run your cost could actually wind up being higher. You could emerge with an ineffective treatment, or suffer complications arising from an inexperienced technician.
- Research the types of lasers available.
Specialized clinics should possess a variety of lasers as people with different complexions require different laser treatments.
“It’s important to look for a laser center with multiple lasers as no single laser will safely or effectively remove hair on people with all skin types,” says Dr. Michael Law, a board-certified plastic surgeon from North Carolina.
- Be sure to look into your technician’s training background.
Find out if they work under the supervision of a physician, and if anyone on the premises holds a medical license. In some states, laser hair removal technicians are required by law to be supervised by doctors, but in other states they are not.
One 2014 study revealed that errors with laser hair removal are more likely to be caused by non-physicians, or technicians who lack adequate medical training.
- Check for reviews and testimonials online.
Always take online customer reviews with a grain of salt, of course, but former patients can often provide candid, valuable observations about a business if they feel the service was particularly good -- or bad.
A cursory glance at what other people have said about the clinic you’re interested in can offer some useful and telling insights, but again, bear in mind that reviews aren’t necessarily always neutral.
- Call the clinic and ask for more details concerning their practices.
Some questions that you could ask include:
- What kinds of lasers are used the clinic? (i.e., Ruby, Diode, etc.)
- What brands of laser are used?
- Are the lasers FDA approved?
- How long have you been carrying out treatments?
- Are technicians supervised if they are not doctors?
- What qualifications do the technicians hold?
- Is it possible to get a free first consultation and patch test?
If the answers they provided satisfy you, then booking your first consultation is the next logical step. Remember to steer clear of clinics that:
- Make you feel pressured into making a decision
- Promise discounts if you sign up for treatments on the day of your first consultation
- Promise permanent hair removal -- only electrolysis can be legally advertised as a permanent hair removal technique
Your first consultation: questions to ask
During the first consultation, you can expect the doctor to review your medical history and any medications you take to ensure there are no complicating factors that may detrimentally affect your health.
For example, if you are a diabetic, the doctor will need more details about your general health and skin sensitivity, because some diabetics suffer from neuropathy (damaged nerve endings) which can be exacerbated by lasers.
One of the most important things that happens during your first consultation is the doctor will explain what laser can and cannot do for you. Realistic expectations are key to feeling satisfied with the final outcome, and you certainly don’t want to commit to any treatments until you know how the laser will work with your skin and hair coloring.
During the consultation, the doctor or technician will provide you with more specific information about:
- The estimated cost of the treatment
- The number of sessions required
- The likely efficacy of the treatment based on your physical characteristics
You may also want to ask further questions once the doctor has decided on the most appropriate treatment for you:
- What type of device will you use and why?
- How many years of experience do you have using this device?
- Is this particular device FDA approved? If not, why not?
- If I don’t get the results described or expected, what is your policy on refunds?
- How much is the total cost going to be?
- Am I likely to experience much pain?
- Is a topical anesthetic provided?
- Does the laser use a cooling system to minimize the pain?
- What is your policy should I be burned by the laser?
- Will a fully-qualified physician be administering my treatment?
Based on their answers, you might want to conduct a little more research just to make sure everything stacks up. It’s important to know if the clinic has procedures in place should anything go wrong.
Ask for written confirmation of their policies regarding ineffective treatment or injury resulting from treatment so you can be sure you’ll be covered in a worst case scenario.
At this point, should you still care to proceed, the next step is to undergo a patch test on a spot of skin to determine how well your skin responds to the laser. Wait a few days to a week to see how your skin reacts before making a decision about committing to treatment.
How many treatments will I need?
Laser hair removal only works on hair that is growing, which means multiple sessions are required to target all the follicles in a given area as not all hair grows at the same time.
Dr. Rick Rosen, a board-certified plastic surgeon located in Connecticut explains:
“Hair grows in cycles, typically every 4-6 weeks depending on the part of the body. Given how laser hair removal only works on hair that’s actively growing, we estimate it takes 4-6 treatments to effectively treat any given area with our laser. We will get about 80% of the actively growing hairs. You would then return every 4-6 weeks (depending on the area) to treat the new active growth. Occasionally additional treatments are necessary -- but not often.”
Many doctors point out that the number of treatments required often depends on the needs of the individual patient:
“It’s important to find a laser hair removal practice that offers individual treatments and does not pre-sell treatment packages as it’s impossible to know exactly how many laser hair removal sessions a person needs before treatment,” notes Dr. Michael Law.
Factors such as hair density, the size of the treatment area, skin and hair coloring, the laser device being used, and the experience of the technician will all ultimately have an impact on the number of sessions it takes to permanently reduce hair growth.
Preparing for laser hair removal
Getting ready for your first laser treatment is very straightforward. After your initial consultation and in the time leading up to your first session, the doctor or technician will encourage you to stay out of the sun and refrain from using any tanning products.
If you already have a tan, (natural or fake) you will be advised to wait at least six weeks for it to fade in order to minimize the likelihood of any side effects occurring, such as skin discoloration.
You will also be instructed to avoid plucking, waxing, or undergoing electrolysis. These hair removal techniques disturb the hair follicle and thus interfere with the efficacy of the laser. You are, however, encouraged to shave the area that will be treated.
Shaving only removes the hair at the level of the skin, preserving the hair shaft and follicle. It actually decreases the likelihood that you will experience laser-related pain or burns because the laser will only be able to target the hair below the skin line.
Finally, it is important to thoroughly clean the site that will be treated, removing any deodorant, creams, lotions or sprays that may hinder or complicate the treatment.
What happens in a laser treatment session?
Before laser hair removal treatment begins, the hair in the treatment area is often trimmed with scissors, if it hasn’t already been shaved. As stated earlier, this minimizes the chance of discomfort.
The doctor will also provide you with goggles to protect your eyes from the intense beam laser produces. Additionally, a topical anesthetic is often applied to further reduce any potential discomfort.
The laser device is handheld and will be pressed to your skin. Some devices (such as the Ruby laser) have built-in cooling devices that protect the skin from burning.
When the device is activated, a laser beam passes through the skin with each pulse targeting hair follicles in the treated area. The sensation is akin to a flicking rubber band, and you may also notice a cold sensation from the cooling device or gel.
Treatments for very small areas such as the upper lip takes mere minutes. Treating a larger area like the back should take approximately 30 minutes to an hour.
Immediately following treatment:
Following your treatment session, you are likely to experience redness or rashes for at least a few days. This is entirely normal and will subside. If you find it uncomfortable, you can apply ice to the treated area. If you notice a more serious skin reaction, the doctor may prescribe you a steroid cream to treat the affected skin.
After treatment it is always essential to avoid exposure to the sun—this includes tanning beds. Once your skin has healed, use sunscreen to prevent scarring or permanent skin discoloration.
After your first session:
In the days (or sometimes a few weeks) following a treatment session, it’s common to observe what is referred to as “hair shedding.”
Hair shedding may look like new hair growth, but don’t be fooled by appearances: what you are seeing is merely the last of the hairs that were in their growing phase during your treatment. These hairs will work their way through your skin and simply fall out. You can precipitate the process by gently exfoliating in the shower.
After the shedding has finished, you will have a few hair free weeks until the hair that was dormant begins to grow.
After two to three sessions:
After two to three sessions, 50% of hair in the treated area should be gone forever. Many people are happy with the results after three sessions, as hair growth is often visibly diminished.
After six sessions:
After six sessions, you should expect to see an 80-98% reduction in hair growth in the treated area.
A year later:
As human beings, we are constantly growing new hair follicles because of our hormones and genetics. This process continues after laser hair removal treatment, thus you can expect “tidy up” sessions once or twice a year to target any new hair growth. Most people require one or two top-up’s every 9-12 months.
Home laser hair removal devices
In the last few years, laser hair removal has become available in private homes with the rise of safe and consumer-friendly home laser hair removal devices. Variations of these devices now abound, with the Tria, Silk’n Sensepil and the LumaRx among the most popular.
Home laser hair removal devices are rigorously tested by the FDA to ensure individuals do not inadvertently burn or blind themselves during use, and all that are currently on the market have been deemed safe to remove hair from anywhere on the body except the head and neck.
Many of these devices claim astonishing outcomes. However, many people wonder just how effective home laser devices really are, and how vast the gulf is between treatment delivered by a personal home device and treatment delivered by a technician with access to highly powerful laser machines. Let’s review some of the truths and myths surrounding home laser hair removal devices.
Benefits of home laser hair removal:
- Many products are effective and use the same technology of devices used in clinics
- Portability of the device
- Easy to use
- Cheaper than treatment in a clinic
Disadvantages of home laser hair removal:
- Not as effective as laser hair removal carried out in a clinic
- Products used at home cannot treat a wide range of individuals, but are aimed at those with ideal skin/hair for laser success
- At times, at home devices can be painful
- Do not often have cooling features
- Devices cannot be used around the face, neck of bikini lines
- More sessions required for success
Frequently asked questions
How many types of laser are used for hair removal?
There are four main types: Ruby, Alexandrite, Diode and Nd:YAG. IPL is not actually a laser but constitutes another light-based hair removal device. There are, however, diverse machines which use these variations of laser, as well as home based hair removal devices.
What is the best type of laser for my complexion?
In a professional laser hair removal clinic, a specialized doctor or technician will be able to recommend the most appropriate laser machine based on your skin tone and hair color.
Generally, the Ruby laser is only used for people with lighter skin and hair tones, while Nd:YAG and Alexandrite can be used on individuals with darker complexions.
Does laser hair removal hurt?
For some patients it’s common to experience a degree of discomfort with each pulse of laser administered. The feeling has been described as similar to a rubber band snapping against the skin.
Some laser hair removal machines may incur more discomfort than others; Nd:YAG, because of its longer wavelengths, is more likely to feel a little unpleasant than the Ruby laser, which has lower wavelengths.
However, many laser hair removal machines used in clinics have built-in cooling devices to prevent the skin from burning, and a topical anesthetic is often applied by the doctor prior to administering the laser to relieve the discomfort.
How much does laser hair removal cost?
On average, you can expect to pay about $430 per session, with most patients requiring 4-6 sessions to achieve the best outcome. Cost is influenced by the location of the clinic, the expertise of your technician, and your suitability for laser with respect to skin tone, density of hair, snd the size of the treatment area.
Are there any dangers associated with laser hair removal?
Laser hair removal has been approved for cosmetic use by the FDA. It is a relatively straightforward and safe non-surgical procedure, however, there are some risks associated with it.
Swelling, rashes, redness, purple spots on the skin or burns can be side-effects of the treatment. When conducted by a medical professional, the risk of these side effects is mitigated.
How much hair can I expect to lose?
Laser hair removal permanently reduces hair growth. On average, you can expect to lose 15-30% of the hair in the treated area per session. After two to three sessions, 50% of the hair should be gone. At the end of your treatment, 80-98% of the hair in the treated area will be eradicated.
This does not, however, mean that hair will not grow back. Hormones and genetics means new hair follicles are always being created, so you may need one or two annual top up treatments to maintain results.
What is the difference between home laser hair removal and laser hair removal in a clinic?
Home laser hair removal devices offer the flexibility to carry out laser treatments in the comfort and privacy of your home. They’re also cheaper in the long run, costing significantly less than a series of treatments in a clinic.
However, home laser hair removal systems simply cannot provide the same results as laser delivered in a clinic. Clinics offer greater hair reduction and better results in a more timely manner.
Laser hair removal is a permanent solution to unwanted hair that can put an end to razors and hot wax in your life. With little to no downtime, the procedure can eliminate most hair across large parts of the body like the back or legs.
While laser hair removal is typically considered to be a permanent solution to unwanted hair, it’s important to keep in mind that the procedure has its limitations. Following four to six treatments, most, but not all, of the hair in the targeted area will be removed.
As new hair follicles are constantly growing, the results of laser hair removal degrade over time. Patients typically require touch-up sessions once or twice per year to maintain results.
Find a Hair Removal Technician
Laser hair removal has relatively few serious risks. That said, permanent skin discoloration can be a significant cosmetic issue. Choosing the wrong type of laser or working with an inexperienced technician can lead to pigmentation issues, particularly for people with darker skin tones.
Experienced laser hair removal technicians are able to identify the laser that is best suited to your skin. Working with a qualified professional helps to minimize the risk of skin discoloration and improves your overall results.