You’d think that after years of tweezing, razors, creams, and waxing, I’d have mastered the art of hair removal. But for myself and many others with unwanted hair, it can feel like a never-ending, uphill battle. Unattractive facial and body hair can be damaging to confidence, self-image, and even sex drive. While there are no permanent hair removal methods as of yet, there is hope for those of us in the battle against body hair: laser hair removal.
When I first learned about the magic of laser hair removal, I recognized it as a game-changer for the beauty industry. The hours I’d spend on hair removal kept the unwanted hair at bay for a little while, but it felt like an endless cycle of painful, expensive and time-consuming treatments. The prospect of saving hundreds of dollars a month on waxing and threading sounded too good to be true. The first thing I did was contact a dermatologist that specializes in laser hair removal to learn how it works, what to expect, and how to get long-lasting smooth skin for myself.
1. What Is Laser Hair Removal and How Does It Work?
Laser hair removal was first introduced commercially in the mid-90’s, after years of medical experimentation. This treatment is a dream come true for those who struggle with unwanted body hair. Semi-permanent and relatively painless, the procedure uses an intense, pulsating laser beam, which passes through the skin to hit each individual hair follicle. The laser detects the hair exclusively by focusing on the pigment cells in the hair follicle. It targets the hair follicle’s melanin to not only remove the existing hair, but the intense heat damages the hair follicle down to the root to discourage regrowth, and for hair that comes in finer and sparser with every treatment.
2. How Does Laser Hair Removal Compare to Other Methods?
- Waxing – Waxing is more painful than laser hair removal, with the added risk of skin damage or irritation. Though some people achieve results that last a month or so, many people have hair that grows back rapidly. Waxing only works on hair that is 1/8” or longer. This means enduring unsightly stubble for weeks until your next wax. And worse yet – ingrown hairs are very common when waxing, which can even escalate into cysts – yikes!
- Shaving – Using a razor is relatively painless, but there is a risk of nicks, cuts, or razor burn. Typically, your smooth skin only lasts a couple of days before it’s time to shave again. Hair that’s shaved away also grows in thicker and more densely, with stubble that looks unattractive and feels uncomfortable.
- Tweezing – Plucking hairs out one by one is both painful and time-consuming. Tweezing is only suitable for very small areas, and takes time and concentration, not to mention good lighting and a magnifying mirror. While useful for occasional strays or shaping eyebrows, using tweezers isn’t a viable solution for anyone with more than a couple stray chin hairs to take care of.
- Depilatory creams – Though less laborious than shaving, hair removal creams only deliver smooth skin for a couple of days. Besides being only marginally effective, they are not suitable for delicate areas or those with sensitive skin. They’re also fairly toxic, with unpleasant fumes and serious chemicals that are absorbed through the skin.
3. What Are the Pros of Laser Hair Removal?
- While laser hair removal isn’t strictly permanent, it does drastically reduce overall hair growth. Laser hair removal negatively impacts the speed of growth, hair density, thickness, and pigment. This means even as you work towards smooth, hair-free skin, there is less and less hair to deal with after every session. This allows you some immediate results, with fewer and fewer shaves during your process. With enough sessions, you can stop shaving altogether, and will require only occasional touch-ups to maintain your smooth skin.
- Laser hair removal can be done anywhere on the body. Small areas like upper lip, bikini line or underarms cost less than larger areas like the legs or back, but the machine can cover large areas of the body quickly so there’s no limit to where you can zap away hair.
- Compared to the pain of waxing and tweezing, laser hair removal is relatively painless. The sensation is often compared to the feeling of a tiny rubber band snapping against the skin. And even if this mild discomfort bothers you, sessions rarely last longer than a few minutes in total. The hair removal technician will numb the area with ice before and after your laser treatment. And as hair becomes sparser and finer with continued treatments, the pain lessens as well. Sensitive areas may be a little raw after a session, but the irritation is quite mild and goes away within a day or so.
4. What Are the Cons of Laser Hair Removal?
- Laser hair removal is a long-term process, though the actual time spent in sessions is quite short. Sessions for small areas like upper lip or underarms take less than a minute. However, multiple sessions are required to achieve lasting results. The number of sessions you will need varies based on the size of the area, and how coarse and dense your hair growth is. It can take anywhere from three to eight sessions before you’ll be able to ditch the razor completely. And depending on your skin’s sensitivity, you’ll usually have to wait about six weeks between sessions.
- While laser hair removal isn’t cheap ($200-$400 per treatment depending on the size of the hair removal area), its an investment. Considering the amount of money spent on razors or professional waxing in a year, laser hair removal is a value.Laser hair removal pays for itself in a lifetime free of waxing sessions, shaving or tweezing.Though it’s a greater upfront cost, it’s a worthy investment.
- The best type of hair for laser treatment is dark, coarse hair on light skin. Since there is a high level of contrast between the skin’s color and the color of the hairs, it’s easy for the laser to target the hair follicles acutely. This makes for faster and longer-lasting results. Those with darker skin or a lot of freckles and moles are at greater risk of damaging the skin’s melanin. This isn’t to say those with darker skin or light hair can’t benefit from laser hair removal. Darker skinned people and blondes may need more sessions at a lesser intensity to see effective results. These individuals should seek out facilities equipped with laser hair removal systems for all skin types.
- There is a risk of burning or scarring with laser hair removal, but only when done by an untrained technician. Since licensing procedures vary from state to state, there’s no universal system for regulating laser hair removal facilities. When sourcing a laser hair removal facility, be sure to ask where your technician was certified.
Say Goodbye to Shaving
Ready to ditch the wax pot and razors? Don’t go for the discounted or super-cheap laser hair removal offers – these are often an indication that the business doesn’t have an experienced professional on staff, and you DON’T want to be someone’s learning curve. This can lead to burning, scarring, or simply a lack of results and waste of money. Stick with a board-certified dermatologist who specializes in laser hair removal, and get ready to kiss razor burn, ingrown hairs, and embarrassing body hair goodbye.