As far as keeping skin smooth and stubble-free for summer goes, laser hair removal might not be the first solution on your mind. The name alone sounds intimidating, and what everyone knows that it requires significantly more planning than swinging by the drugstore for razors and shaving cream.
But you may have reached a point in your life where you’re tired of dealing with prickly legs, prominent nicks, and razor burn. And, now that it’s summer, you’re probably over worrying about the hair on your legs before you slip on that cute new sundress. So if you want to know more about permanent hair removal (or in some cases, reduction), you’ll be relieved to know that—though it’s a definite commitment—laser does have some pretty spectacular benefits. We interviewed top experts in the field for a little briefing on everything you need to know, and how laser could fit into your lifestyle. Read on for the comprehensive guide to getting rid of unwanted hair for good.
Does it work on everyone?
Technically, yes. “Any person can be treated as long as his or her skin can take the intensity of the laser,” says Berenice S. Rothenberg, who owns Berenice Electrolysis & Personal Beauty Center in New York City. The intensity can be adjusted depending on your skin sensitivity, although a lower intensity might slow down the desired results. However, the same results are not guaranteed on everyone. “Traditionally, laser hair removal was most effective on people with dark hair and light skin,” says Dr. Paul Flashner, MD and Chief Medical Director ofAmerican Laser Skincare. Luckily, advances in laser technology have made it possible to treat a much wider range of hair and skin tones, although it’s still difficult to get good results on those with light hair.
Am I a candidate?
The odds are good that if you’re even reading this article you can try the treatment. “If your body is going through puberty, it produces new hair and new follicles at a heightened rate, which means younger patients may not be eligible for laser,” explains Dr. Todd Schlifstein, Board Certified Physiatrist and Attending Physician at Fountain MedSpa in New York City, who doesn’t recommend considering this option until your body is out of its accelerated growth cycle. Even so, you may still have to take age into consideration. For instance, at American Laser Skincare, you can’t undergo treatment without written and signed parental consent unless you’re 18 or older. (And no, forging won’t cut it!)
Why is it better than waxing?
In short: fewer treatments, way longer results. “Waxing requires monthly maintenance, and each time, the hair must be long enough to be wad,” says Rose Gabrielle, an esthetician and Cosmetic Consultant at Fountain MedSpa. Laser hair removal requires far fewer appointments. Depending on the client, most practitioners recommend between four to eight treatments (scheduled one to two months apart) to achieve permanent results. And if your goal is reduction and not permanent removal, you can get away with just two or three appointments.
Is it really permanent?
“You can expect to see a gradual and cumulative reduction over several treatments,” says Dr. Flashner. “When hair does grow back between treatments, there will be less of it and it will be finer and lighter. More treatments may be needed when treating fine and light-colored hair and hormonally-controlled areas, such as the area above the upper lip or chin.” Most clients are able to permanently remove the majority of the hair, but sometimes it might take more than eight treatments, or you might have to settle for near-removal reduction. Another thing to keep in mind is that hair could potentially grow back: “Laser removal does not work on dormant hair follicles. Hormones can trigger dormant follicles into active hair growth, which can then be treated with subsequent touch-up sessions.”
How exactly does the laser work?
So this one’s complicated, but it never hurts to understand the facts behind your beauty treatments, right? The first thing you should know is that hair growth occurs in three stages: anagen (active), catagen (regression), and telogen (resting). “Laser technology is designed to treat hair in the anagen phase,” explains Dr. Flashner. “Between appointments, some of the hair will grow as it cycles through the phases. Hairs that may have been dormant during previous laser hair removal sessions may now be active. This is why a series of treatments is necessary, so hair can be targeted as it moves into the growth phase.” When the laser hits your skin, the melanin, or pigment in your hair follicles, absorbs the energy and is destroyed. Once a follicle is successfully destroyed, it won’t grow back.
Which areas can be treated?
You can get laser hair removal on any area of your face or body. “Because of the newer devices that are almost painless and super fast, more and more patients are removing everything,” says Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank, a cosmetic dermatologist and the founder of 5th Avenue Dermatology Surgery and Laser Center. “The most popular areas for hair removal are the legs, bikini, underarms, and arms,” he explains. Expect the process to take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour (more if you’re treating multiple areas). As for what to expect from your first session? “Immediately afterwards, the hair on the surface falls off instantly,” says Rothenberg. “The hair that is underneath will take five to 10 days to leave the epidermis.”
What do I need to do before going in?
“Make sure that the area you want to treat is not shaved or wad,” cautions Rothenberg. The sensation is often likened to that of snapping rubber bands, but the newest lasers provide increased comfort, so there’s no need to take an OTC painkiller beforehand.
Is there anything I should avoid post-treatment?
“There’s no healing time required for laser hair removal,” says Dr. Flashner. “Although, some patients may experience temporary redness or swelling.” To soothe skin, try applying a topical cortisone cream or a cool compress to the area, and avoid activities that produce excessive heat, like hot baths or hot tubs, for the first 24 hours. It’s always a good idea to protect any exposed areas with sunscreen, and stay away from prolonged sun exposure for two weeks. You can proceed with the rest of your routine as usual, but Dr. Frank recommends treating your skin gently, which means taking a brief break from body scrubs and anything with glycolic acid.
Where should I go?
It’s always a good idea to go to an experienced practitioner (like a physician or a nurse), particularly if it’s your first time. “Although the procedure is extremely safe, it can cause significant problems in the wrong hands,” says Dr. Frank. One final thing to keep in mind is that not all lasers are created equal, and the more recent the technology is, the better your final results will be. Dr. Frank recommends the new LightSheer Desire Laser, while Dr. Flashner stands by the results of the the GentleMax Pro®.
How much does it cost?
The number of sessions and the cost per treatment will vary by patient. At 5th Avenue Dermatology, Dr. Frank tells us that prices range from $380-$750. Of course, it also depends on the size of the area you’re treating. “Typically, the initial treatments are the most costly,” says Rothenberg. “After a few treatments, the price decreases because a lot of hair has been destroyed.”