Don’t toss your razor just yet.
Shaving, plucking, waxing … all of these take time, but for people who prefer to have smooth, hairless skin, they may seem like the only options available. If you’re willing to shell out a little extra cash, however, you could opt instead for a more permanent result: laser hair removal. This high-tech method uses light to actually destroy the follicle, leaving you with fuzz-free skin.
We asked some pros to give us the rundown on all the info you need to know before getting this procedure done.
1. How does laser hair removal work?
Any service with the word “laser” in its name might seem intimidating, but it’s actually very simple. “Energy from the laser is picked up by the pigment in the hair follicle, causing destruction to the root,” explains New York dermatologist Dr. Margarita Lolis. Once the root is destroyed, it can’t produce more hair.
2. Which type of laser is good for each need?
According to Rachel Sharoff, licensed esthetician at Skintology Skin and Laser Center, here’s a quick rundown on the three most popular laser types:
Diode: The diode laser is very effective for light and dark skin.
Alexandrite: This laser is the fastest of all laser types and works best for treating larger body areas among patients who are have light-to-olive complexions.
Nd:YAG: This long pulse laser can be used safely on all skin types, including tanned skin. It is less effective for light or fine hair when compared to other types of lasers.
3. Which body parts does laser hair removal work best on?
While laser hair removal can work on any body part you wish to remove hair from, it is especially effective on the bikini, lip, chin, and underarm areas.
4. Who are the best candidates for laser hair removal?
If you have dark hair and have ever been annoyed with how stubborn it can be when it comes to regrowth and removal, rejoice: laser hair removal actually works best with thick, coarse, dark hair. “The laser is attracted to pigment, or color, in the hair follicle,” explains Sharoff.
That said, it can take a little longer to fully work on thicker hair. “Some hair is just very resistant, and sometimes new ones come out due to hormonal changes or other hair bulbs becoming active during the treatment period,” explains Dr. Birnur Aral, Director of the Good Housekeeping Beauty Lab, who has personal experience with laser hair removal.
5. Which medications should you stop using beforehand?
Just as with waxing, this skincare treatment is incompatible with certain meds. “Any medications that are photosensitive need to be stopped at least one week prior to treatment,” Sharoff warns. She also notes that most antibiotics can be photosensitive, so if you have an infection, it could be a good idea to push your treatment back a few weeks.
“Patients should not be using skincare with strong actives such as retinoids and alfa hydroxyl acids,” says Dr. Aral. These ingredients can increase skin cell turnover, making skin more vulnerable to the sun and irritation during the treatment period. If you’re not sure whether your medication could negatively affect your laser hair removal treatment, consult with your doctor beforehand.
6. How long does it take to work?
Everybody is different, so the amount of sessions it takes varies per individual, says Dr. Lolis. “Laser hair removal works when the hair is in its active growth rate,” she explains. Different parts of the body have different growth rates, and therefore could take longer or shorter depending on which spot you’re treating, but Sharoff states that the majority of clients need an average of six to eight treatments for full hair removal.
7. Do you really need to attend all your sessions?
Yes. “One of the biggest mistakes people make is not completing the necessary amount of sessions,” warns Dr. Lolis. “Once the hair growth slows down, patients don’t follow through.” If you really want your treatment to be effective, listen to your practitioner — they know best.
8. What does it feel like? Does it hurt?
“With numbing, it should be comfortable,” says Dr. Lolis, who adds that it feels like a “rubber band snapping the skin,” while Sharoff notes that most of her clients describe it as a light, warm pinch.
9. Should you reschedule an appointment if you have your period?
Unlike getting a bikini wax, you should not cancel your treatment due to your period, says Sharoff. “It’s very important to stay consistent with treatments,” she explains, “so even if a woman is menstruating and treating her bikini area, we just ask that she uses a tampon on the day of treatment.”
10. How should you prep for an appointment?
“We ask that you shave the area you are treating beforehand so that the laser can penetrate into the root of the hair — not target or singe any hair on or outside the skin,” advises Sharoff. She is very specific about the shaving aspect of this prep work for a reason: “You should not wax, tweeze, or bleach any hair one month before your session because the root needs to stay intact in order for the laser to effectively destroy the hair.”
11. What’s the proper way to care for the treated areas?
After your session, avoidance to sun exposure is advisable and the use of a sunscreenlike Kiehl’s Activated Sun Protector Water-Light Lotion for Face & Body ($29, kiehls.com) is highly recommended. (But hey, you were already using sunscreen every day, right?) Dr. Aral also notes that any hair growth between sessions should be shaved off — not waxed or threaded.
12. On average, how much does it cost?
The price you pay per session of laser hair removal can vary from provider to provider, but Dr. Lolis says it can range from $50 to $300, depending on which body part you’re removing hair from.
Considering multiple sessions are often needed to fully stop hair growth, it’s not exactly a cheap treatment. But if you like to have hairless skin, imagine using razors or heading to the salon for a wax for the rest of your life — when you think of how much all that costs, laser hair removal can be seen as more of a longterm investment. Plus, some service providers offer packages for clients purchasing several sessions at once, so be sure to ask about any specials available.
13. What are the risks?
While laser hair removal is considered a safe treatment, Dr. Lolis notes that there is a risk of burning, while the FDA adds that blistering, discoloration, redness, and scarring are also potential side effects. There’s also the possibility that your hair could grow back, which Dr. Aral notes may require yearly treatments to keep new hair growth at bay.