This treatment uses lasers (pulses of intense light) to remove unwanted facial and body hair. It can also be effective for treating ingrown hairs (sometimes called “shaving bumps”).
How Does It Work?
The laser light passes through the skin and “zaps” individual hairs in their follicles. The heat from the light not only destroys the existing hairs, but also damages the follicles in a way that inhibits new hair from growing. The laser is able to accomplish all this with a minimum effect on surrounding tissue because the laser light zeros in only on the melanin, or dark pigment, in the hair.
Does It Work for Everybody?
Laser hair removal works best on individuals who have light skin and dark, coarse hair. But some new, longer-pulsed laser devices have been specifically designed for safe and effective use on darker skin and lighter hair. A physician experienced with lasers will give you an honest appraisal of just how effective this treatment can be for you.
What Is the Treatment Like?
You’ll be given goggles to protect your eyes from the laser’s light. To minimize any discomfort during the procedure, a topical anesthetic will be applied to your skin. Furthermore, to protect your skin from the laser’s heat, the area targeted for treatment will be either lathered with a cooling gel or cooled with a special device on the tip of the laser instrument itself.
The laser instrument is a hand-held device that your physician will gently press onto your skin throughout the procedure. You’ll feel a slight stinging sensation as the hair follicles are zapped. How long the procedure lasts will depend on how large an area of your skin is being treated. A small area—say, the upper lip—may take only minutes, while a larger area—say, a back—may take an hour or longer.
How Many Treatments Will I Need?
Most people need 5 to 7 treatments for prolonged results. That’s because hair growth has several phases, and not all your hair will be in the same phase at the same time. The one most amendable to laser treatments is known as the active growing, or anagen, phase.
Laser hair removal treatments are therefore scheduled 3 to 8 weeks apart. The exact schedule depends on the area of the body with the unwanted hair. Facial hair, for example, requires more frequent treatments (every 3 to 4 weeks) because it tends to go through the various hair-growing phases at a relatively fast pace. Leg hair, on the other hand, rotates through the phases more slowly, and thus requires that treatments be spaced every 6 weeks or so.
Do I Need to Prepare for the Treatments?
Yes. Because the treatment is less effective and can cause more side effects, such as discoloration and blistering, on darker skin, people with lighter skin should make sure that any tan they have has faded before having the procedure. That includes tans created by sunless tanning products.
Also, avoid tweezing or waxing your unwanted hair before the procedure. Doing so can irritate the hair follicle and make the laser treatment less effective. It’s okay to shave your legs, however, as shaving doesn’t interfere with the follicle. In fact, some research suggests that shaving before a laser hair removal treatment may actually enhance the results. But talk with your physician first.
What Are the Side Effects and Risks?
Typical side effects include redness, swelling, itching, and, perhaps, a lingering of the stinging sensation. All of these usually disappear within a few days. If any side effect persists, call your physician.
In rare cases, the treatment may burn the skin or cause it to become discolored. These unwanted side effects can be minimized by making sure a laser and its settings appropriately matches an individual’s skin and hair color. To ensure that you’re treated with the appropriate laser, seek care from a physician who is trained and experienced in laser hair removal and who uses different types of lasers.
When Will I See Results?
You’ll need to be patient. Your skin will not immediately appear hair-less. It can take 2 to 3 weeks for all treated hairs to shed.
How Long Do the Results Last?
Laser hair removal treatments do not stop hair growth. They only slow it, although sometimes for quite long periods of time. So lasers are not a permanent solution to your unwanted hair. You’ll need periodic maintenance treatments if you want to keep your skin looking hair-free.