Laser hair removal: Overview
Are you tired of shaving, plucking, or waxing? Do you get razor bumps or acne-like breakouts when you get rid of unwanted hair? If so, you may want to consider laser hair removal.
Dermatologists use lasers to remove unwanted facial and body hair safely and effectively. Thanks to advances in technology, most people can safely have laser hair removal.
Removing the unwanted hair often requires a few office visits. Most patients need between 2 to 6 treatments. Afterwards, most patients are free of the unwanted hair for several months. When the hair regrows, most patients see noticeably less hair than before. The hair also tends to be finer and lighter in color.
Laser hair removal can be repeated when the hair regrows.
What dermatologists treat: The lasers designed for hair removal can be used on most parts of the body. Many lasers effectively treat large areas. Laser hair removal can treat the:
- Bikini area
- Face, especially the upper lip and chin
Insurance coverage: Insurance does not cover laser hair removal.
Laser hair removal: FAQs
To help you decide whether this treatment is right for you, you should review the following facts.
Laser hair removal can be dangerous in inexperienced hands. Burns, permanent changes to your skin color, and scars can occur. You can greatly reduce the risk of possible side effects by having your treatment performed by a medical doctor who is extremely skilled in using lasers and has in-depth knowledge of the skin.
The AAD recommends that you choose a board-certified dermatologist to perform laser treatments.
What happens during laser hair removal?
Before the treatment, the area to be treated will be cleansed. Some patients receive a numbing gel. Numbing the area to be treated helps when a small area will be treated and the skin is very sensitive. It takes about 30 to 60 minutes for a numbing gel to work.
The laser treatment will take place in a room set up specifically for laser treatments. Everyone in the room must wear protective eyewear during the procedure. To perform the procedure, the skin is held taut and the skin is treated with the laser. Many patients say that the laser pulses feel like warm pinpricks or a rubber band being snapped against the skin.
A laser removes hair by vaporizing it. This causes small plumes of smoke that have a sulfur-like smell.
How long your treatment lasts depends on the size of the area being treated. Treating the upper lip takes minutes. If you are having a large area like the back or legs treated, your treatment may last more than an hour.
What must I do after getting laser hair removal?
To avoid possible side effects, all patients need to protect their skin from the sun. After laser hair removal, you should:
- Avoid direct sunlight from hitting your treated skin.
- Not use a tanning bed, sun lamp, or any other indoor tanning equipment.
- Follow your dermatologist’s after-care instructions.
You will see some redness and swelling after treatment. This often looks like a mild sunburn. Applying a cool compress can help reduce your discomfort.
Is there downtime?
No, laser hair removal generally does not require any real downtime. Immediately after having laser hair removal, your treated skin will be red and swollen. Despite this, most people return to their everyday activities.
When will I see the results after having laser hair removal?
You will likely see the results immediately after treatment. The results vary from patient to patient. The color and thickness of your hair, area treated, type of laser used, and color of your skin all affect the results. You can expect a 10% to 25% reduction in hair after the first treatment.
To remove the hair, most patients need 2 to 6 laser treatments. After finishing the treatments, most patients do not see any hair on the treated skin for several months or even years. When the hair regrows, there tends to be less of it. The hairs also tend to be finer and lighter in color.
How long will the results of laser hair removal last?
Most patients remain hair free for months or even years. When some of the hair regrows, it will likely be less noticeable. To keep the area free of hair, a patient may need maintenance laser treatments.
What are the possible side effects?
The most common side effects are minor and last 1 to 3 days. These side effects include:
Other possible side effects are rare when laser hair removal is performed by a dermatologist or under the dermatologist’s direct supervision. Other possible side effects include:
- Herpes simplex (cold sores) outbreaks
- Skin lightening or darkening
In time, skin color tends to return to normal. Some changes to skin color, however, are permanent. This is why seeing a medical doctor who is skilled in laser treatments and has in-depth knowledge of the skin is so important.
It is also important to follow your dermatologist’s instructions. Following both the before-treatment instructions and after-treatment instructions will greatly reduce your risk of side effects.
When is it safe to have another laser treatment for hair removal?
This varies from patient to patient. Removing hair often requires a series of laser treatments. Most patients can have laser hair removal once every 4 to 6 weeks. Your dermatologist will tell you when it is safe to have another treatment.
Most patients see some hair regrowth. Your dermatologist can tell you when you can safely have laser treatments to maintain the results.
What is the safety record for laser skin removal?
Lasers play an important role in treating many conditions that affect the skin, hair, and nails. In recent years, many advances have been made in laser medicine. Dermatologists have led the way in making these advances.
One such advance is that more people can safely have laser hair removal. In the past, only people with dark hair and light skin could safely have laser hair removal. Today, laser hair removal is a treatment option for patients who have light-colored hair and light skin and patients who have dark skin. Laser hair removal must be performed very carefully in these patients. Dermatologists know what precautions to take to provide laser hair removal safely and effectively.
Laser hair removal: Preparation
To protect your health and find out what results you want, a dermatologist always offers a consultation before performing laser hair removal. To help you get the most benefit from this consultation, you should:
- Ask questions
- Gather important information before your consultation
This page tells you what questions to ask and what information to gather.
Questions to ask before having laser hair removal
To ensure your treatment meets your expectations, ask the following questions before laser hair removal:
- Will a board-certified dermatologist perform the laser hair removal?
- How many of these laser treatments has the doctor performed on people with my skin coloring?
- How many laser treatments will I need?
- What results can I expect?
- What will I need to do before getting laser hair removal?
- What are the potential side effects?
- Do I have a higher risk for any side effects?
- May I see before-and-after photos or speak with patients you treated with laser hair removal?
- How much will the treatment cost?
During the consultation, your dermatologist also can tell you whether another treatment would be a better option for you.
Information to tell your dermatologist before laser hair removal
Before you have laser hair removal, be sure to tell your dermatologist if you have:
- A tendency to scar.
- A recent tan.
- Ever had a keloid (type of raised scar).
- A tendency to get outbreaks of cold sores or genital herpes.
- Taken isotretinoin (a medicine used to treat severe acne) — or are taking any other medicine, including medicine that you buy without a prescription, such as aspirin.
The dermatologist also will examine your skin because the success of this procedure depends on considering a number of factors. These factors include where the unwanted hair is on the body, the color and coarseness of the hair, and where the hair is in its growth cycle.
Follow your dermatologist’s instructions
If you have laser hair removal, it is important to start following your dermatologist’s instructions immediately. This helps reduce potential side effects. Your dermatologist’s instructions will include:
- Do not tan (outdoors and indoors).
- Do not use sunless tanners.
- Protect your skin by using sunscreen. You should apply the sunscreen every day before going outdoors. Apply sunscreen that is broad-spectrum, SPF 30+, and water-resistant.