I have a handful of issues with waxing and shaving. To start, waxing gives me ingrown hairs. It also costs money and requires a lot of time and maintenance. Shaving, on the other hand, causes razor burn, and I can’t shave the backs of my legs without becoming an amateur contortionist. These are just some of the reasons that I decided to try laser hair removal.
Unlike getting a wax, laser hair removal isn’t a one-time situation. Though, of course, one has to get regular waxes to remove hair when it grows back. With laser hair removal, I had several successive sessions, which required a significant time and money investment. That said, once the hair is lasered, it doesn’t return, so you get that time and money back in the long run. Here’s everything you need to know about laser hair removal.
What is laser hair removal?
Just like waxing and shaving, laser hair removal is a procedure to remove unwanted hair from certain areas of the body — underarms and lower legs are the most common. Unlike other methods, though, laser hair removal is semi-permanent. The treated areas remain hair-free for quite a while thanks to the effect the treatment has on hair follicles. It’s also classified as a medical procedure, meaning there are a few more risks to consider when removing body hair this way. During the procedure, a special laser emits light that is absorbed by the melanin in the hair. The heat from the laser damages hair follicles to help delay or even prevent future hair growth in the area. Because of the risk of burns, this procedure should only be done by a board-certified dermatologist. Additionally, prospective patients should be prepared for this hair removal method to require a number of treatments before the desired results become visible.
Although laser hair removal treatment is often used for hair reduction on the legs, sideburns, armpits, upper lip, and bikini line, it can be used to remove hair almost anywhere on the body, except for the eyelids. (In fact, some dermatologists won’t even use a laser to shape eyebrows due to their close proximity to the eye and the small size of the area.) It also shouldn’t be used over tattoos or their surrounding skin. While anyone can try laser hair removal, it typically works best when there’s high contrast between skin and hair color, such as on people with fair skin and dark hair. This is because the laser seeks dark pigment — it isn’t as effective on blonde hair, and if you have dark skin, it’s important to find a dermatologist who specializes in performing laser treatments on skin with more melanin.
How much does laser hair removal cost?
It’s difficult to put an exact price point on laser hair removal because every procedure is different. Cost can vary by the expertise level of the dermatologist performing the procedure, how much hair is being removed, and where you have the procedure done. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the average cost of laser hair removal is $389 per treatment. (Remember, in most cases, you’ll need four to six sessions to get rid of unwanted hair, plus maintenance sessions after that.) In general, treatments can range from $100 to $800 per session. Because laser hair removal is considered a cosmetic procedure, that cost is not likely covered by insurance, so budget accordingly.
How do I prepare for laser hair removal?
Before committing to the treatment, schedule an appointment with your dermatologist or doctor to talk about whether laser hair removal will work for you. Risk factors can include the use of certain medications, past hair removal procedures, and a history of skin issues or disorders.
During the consultation, the dermatologist will explain the steps you’ll take to prepare for the procedure. They’ll likely suggest avoiding other hair removal or dermatology treatments that pull hair from the follicle, including plucking and waxing, for up to four weeks pre-laser. That said, it’s a good idea to shave before your laser appointment — removing hair above the follicle reduces burn risk. Your dermatologist will probably also advise you to avoid sun exposure and blood-thinning medications like aspirin before and immediately after the procedure.
What should I expect from a laser hair removal procedure?
Your dermatologist will likely begin the treatment by shaving the treatment area (if you have not done so already) and applying a topical anesthetic to minimize the pain. They’ll also give you special goggles to wear during the procedure that prevent damage to your eyes from the powerful laser. They’ll then pass over the treatment area with a handheld laser. Pain tolerance varies from person to person, so it’s difficult to ascribe a precise pain level to the process. It depends on your pain threshold. For me, it felt like a warm pinprick (or occasionally a zap), as if someone had snapped a rubber band against my skin.
The procedure’s duration will depend on how much hair you’re removing. If you’re just getting a small area treated — for example, your upper lip — it could take as little as a few minutes. On the other hand, treating a large area, such as your back or full legs, could take as long as an hour. During your consultation, talk to your doctor about how long they expect the procedure to take.
What should I do after the procedure?
Post-laser, you should generally avoid direct sunlight and any sort of tanning equipment for at least six weeks. Also, don’t forget to apply SPF. I experienced some mild swelling and irritation after the procedure, which I could easily soothe with an ice pack. In the event of skin reaction or severe swelling, your dermatologist may give you a topical steroid and more specific after-care instructions.
Hair growth is so personal — and contingent on a range of factors — that it’s hard to predict exactly what each person’s treatment process will look like. In general, depending on your hair type and the size of the treatment area, it will take two to six treatment sessions to fully remove the hair. Treatment sessions may be as frequent as every four weeks or separated by as much as eight weeks. Between treatment sessions, my hair grew back like normal, but it was patchier and less thick over time. And although permanent hair removal is not possible for everyone, you’ll likely be able to go months (if not years) without hair regrowth. When the hair does come back, it’s finer and lighter in color. You might need maintenance treatments every once in a while, or you might feel satisfied with the results after your initial round of treatments. Hair removal is an intensely personal journey, and everyone’s experience looks a little bit different.
Is Laser Hair Removal Safe?
Laser hair removal is effective and safe for most people, although pregnant women and people taking certain medications or with a history of skin disorders might need to consider non-laser methods. There are also important steps everyone should take to have a safe and positive laser hair removal experience, including consulting with a doctor (in addition to your dermatologist), only booking treatment with a board-certified dermatologist, and avoiding at-home laser treatments.
As with any medical procedure, there are some risks associated with laser hair removal. They are generally minor and can be avoided by adhering to the suggestions of a doctor. Possible side effects can include:
- Swelling and redness
- Minor burns
- Hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentation
- In rare cases, scarring or infections
Is laser hair removal worth it?
Like any cosmetic procedure, the value of laser hair removal depends on your needs and point of view. Whether or not it’s worth the money and time depends on a lot of factors, including your financial situation, pain tolerance, hair type, and hair removal experience. For me, waxing and dealing with razor bumps was enough of a nuisance that the cost and time commitment of laser hair removal was 100 percent worth it. For other women, the cost and pain involved will preclude it.
At the end of the day, cosmetic and beauty procedures are highly personal — no one can decide if body hair removal is worth it except for you. As always, the best choice is the one that makes you feel the happiest and most confident.