Guide To Laser Hair Removal

What is laser hair removal best for?

Laser hair removal is most commonly used for unwanted:

  • facial hair
  • hair in the armpits and bikini line
  • legs
  • forearms

Laser hair removal has become very effective in the past ten years. Often the preferred method of hair removal now, it’s safe, effective, and more permanent than any other method such as waxing, plucking, shaving, and electrolysis. Also, prices are pretty reasonable in most communities. The easiest person to treat for laser hair removal has darker hair on lighter skin. But there are now lasers (the Nd:YAG) that do a good job with dark hair on dark skin.

It still does not work well for grey hair, fine blond hair, or women with hormonal problems such as polycystic ovaries disease. Also, if you just have a few, coarse hairs on your chin, a good electrolysist will be more cost effective.

See Dr. Irwin’s Guide on Unwanted Hair.

How does laser hair removal work?

The laser emits a very specific beam of light at a wavelength that is targeted at melanin in the hair and/or at the follicle growth center (called the hair bulb). Melanin is the material that gives color to our hair and skin. The laser beam passes through the skin and is absorbed by the melanin in the hair follicle.

Therefore, the ideal candidate for this procedure has hair that is darker than her skin color. If the skin and hair color are too similar, it confuses some lasers.

Darker skin needs “long-wave” hair-removal lasers like the YAG laser. They are safer if you have darker skin because they won’t “burn” the skin trying to get rid of the hair.

Why do I need a series of treatments?

At any given time, a certain percentage of hairs are in the “resting” phase, rather than a growth phase. The laser will not be effective on those resting hairs, which is why, on average, five treatments are necessary in each area to achieve maximum results.

More treatments can be done as soon as further hair growth appears. Due to the variation in the number of hairs in the resting phase, certain parts of the body will respond more rapidly whereas others might take much longer to show effects. For example, the face usually responds more slowly than the bikini line.

How much does laser hair removal cost?

A single treatment of the lip and chin area costs around $200-400, with a series of 5 costing about $1,000-2,000 depending on how much hair there is.

But remember that single treatments will not be effective. You need a series of about 5 treatments in order to reach all hairs in their various growth phases.

A single treatment of the bikini or the underarm is about $200-400, with a series of 5 treatments costing about $1,000-2,000 depending on how much hair and whether the upper thighs are included.

Larger areas like a back cost more. Maintenance treatments are usually less expensive.

Do the treatments hurt, and how long will they take?

There may be mild discomfort during the treatment, but most patients tolerate laser hair removal very easily.

For discomfort during your treatment, some laser centers will provide you with a topical numbing cream which you can apply before a treatment. If you are using the cream yourself, never apply numbing cream under saran wrap and never apply it to to an area larger than your hand.

Some laser centers will use a cooling machine  (Zimmer cooler) during the treatment to make the experience more comfortable. Treatments can take from minutes to hours, depending on the size of the treatment area.

How many treatments will I need?

After three to seven treatments initially, most women and men report that their expectations have been met and the hair growth pattern is much, much less. In some areas, in addition to the decrease in the number of hairs, the hairs become very fine and light in color.

No laser clinic should claim that all of the hairs will be permanently eradicated. Most patients will need a touch-up 1-4  times a year to maintain the improvement.

Expect to need more treatments if you have any history of irregular periods, polycystic ovary disease, gray or white hairs, or a family history of excessive hair.

About 5 percent of patients are resistant to any type of hair removal laser. It is very important to have a realistic expectation regarding individual results of hair removal. No hair-removal system anywhere is “permanent.”

Who will do the treatments?

I think laser hair removal should be done in a medical office (not a spa) by personnel who are medically trained and supervised by a doctor.  Technician is a word used to hide the fact that the person has no formal medical training.

These degrees are recognized and licensed by your state: MD, PA-C, ARNP, RN, LPN, MA.  In some states, licensed aestheticians are allowed to operate certain lasers.

Do I need to do anything special before being treated?

Your provider will give you instructions, and different laser hair removal systems do vary. So it is important to follow your provider’s directions. But here are some general guidelines common to many laser hair removal treatments:

1. Do not tan. Tanning of any type changes the laser settings and is the most common cause of blistering after laser hair removal. Do not use self-tanners one to two weeks before a treatment.

2. No plucking, electrolysis, bleaching or depilatories should be performed at least two weeks prior to treatment. The hair must be present, a short stubble, and with its natural hair color in order to be treated effectively.

3. For waxing, centers differ so ask your provider.

3. Shaving is fine up until a few days before your treatment.

4. All makeup and lotion should be removed prior to treatment.

5. If antibiotics or any new medications have been started, inform your provider prior to treatment.

6. For bikini line hair removal, wear light-colored panties because the laser is absorbed by dark colors.

When is laser hair removal more difficult?

1.  If you have hormonal abnormalities like irregular periods or polycystic ovaries

2.  If your hair is blonde or white

3.  If it’s hard for you to make the time for an initial series of five or six monthly appointments

4. if you have darker hair and darker skin, go to a center that has lasers specifically designed for you, such as the Nd:Yag

5. if you can’t get yourself to stop tanning

What are the medical or cosmetic side effects?

Your provider will give you a list of side effects and discuss them with you if requested. But here are some possible side effects:

1. Pain. Some people feel discomfort during the treatment. There may be a burning sensation, which lasts for an hour or two.

2. Healing. There is always a slight possibility of developing a crust or blister. This is superficial and generally does not result in any scarring and is treated like a sunburn or any other superficial blister.

3. Pigment changes. The treated area will probably heal without any pigment changes; however, there is always a chance that darker or lighter areas may occur. These are usually temporary and will fade within 1-6 months. Sun exposure must be avoided if a darker spot occurs, as that may intensify the hyperpigmentation. It is rare that a change is permanent.

4. Scarring is very rare and it is important to follow all the post- treatment instructions carefully.

5. Swelling may occur immediately after treatment, especially on the face. This is temporary and not harmful.

6. Fragile skin. Skin that has been treated should be cared for gently for several days. It should not be rubbed.

7. Bruising is rare. It will generally clear up within 4-10 days.

See Dr. Irwin’s Guide on Unwanted Hair

Next, learn about Dr. Irwin’s Personal Skin Care Regimen.

See Dr. Irwin’s expert answers to other reader’s questions on laser hair removal:
How do I get rid of razor bumps and ingrown hair on my legs?
Laser hair removal- when is it a good option?
What is the best way to permanently remove facial hair, especially along the lip line?