Warm weather means sunshine, swimsuits, shorts — and so much shaving! If you dread warm weather because of the additional skin exposure, laser hair removal is a good option to consider; it can greatly reduce your grooming demands.
Physician assistant Tonianne Grobmyer answers 10 questions that cover just about everything you need to know about laser hair removal.
During laser hair removal, a technician presses an instrument that produces a laser beam to the skin. The beam passes through the skin and targets the hair follicles. The heat and light from the laser damage the follicles and stop hair growth.
The process only works during the hair’s growth cycle, so the procedure is often done multiple times. You may have great results after three treatments, or it sometimes takes as many as nine.
Treatment needs can vary because the laser targets melanin, or dark pigment, in the hair follicles. The darker your skin is, the harder it is to distinguish between the skin color and the pigment in the follicles. You can still get good results, but it may take more treatments. If you have light skin and dark hair, you will likely get good results after just a few treatments.
It works with all kinds of hair, except for gray hair.
No. The word “laser” stands for “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation,” but it’s not like an X-ray. The treatment simply uses light and heat.
It’s a good idea to stay out of the sun as much as possible before the procedure.
Ultraviolet light stimulates melanocytes, which create more melanin in the skin. This makes it harder for the laser technician to distinguish between the skin and follicles, which also makes the treatment more challenging.
“You need to be as pale as possible and tanning beds are definitely a no-no,” Ms. Grobmyer says.
You should also avoid shaving for three or four days before the treatment. If the hair has grown out some, it makes it easier for the technician to see it. Definitely avoid waxing or depilatories as they pull the hair out of the follicle, leaving no target for the laser.
This depends on the area being treated. Smaller spaces like the chin or underarms may only take about 20 minutes; a leg or full back can take as long as an hour-and-a-half.
Ms. Grobmyer says the treatment is “a little uncomfortable” at worst because there are nerves attached to the hair follicles. To put it in perspective, she says she treats about 60 people each month and has only one patient who used a topical pain reliever afterward.
Laser hair removal works just about anywhere, including the legs, arms, back, underarms and bikini line. The only places that are off-limits are ones that can’t be seen such as inside the nostrils and inside the orbit of the eyes (eyebrows are fair game, however).
The treatment is effective for most people and is very safe.
The only problems you might experience afterward are a little swelling, redness or irritation around the hair follicles. This can last for a couple of days.
Hyperpigmentation (skin darkening) also sometimes occurs, but that typically fades pretty quickly. Burns or blisters may arise, but they are very uncommon.
Ms. Grobmyer had her legs treated 10 years ago and says all she gets is occasional “peach fuzz.” You may need a touch-up here and there — especially if you have a lot of body hair — but the overall effects of the procedure are lasting.
However, hormones sometimes complicate things. If you have an endocrine issue that increases your testosterone (such as polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition that causes a hormone imbalance), you may have to return for more touch-ups. Hair also sometimes grows back after pregnancy or menopause.