What’s Laser Hair Removal?
Laser hair removal uses intense light, which is aimed at hair follicles. This damages the hair follicle, inhibiting the future growth of hair from that follicle. Hair growth is slowed or halted, sometimes permanently.
If you’re choosing laser hair removal, make sure you’re choosing it because you really want it, not to please someone else or to fit an imagined ideal. No one else can make the choice for you; it’s your body, and you’re in charge of it. After you do your research and understand the procedure, if you believe that laser hair removal is right for you, then proceed. To help you in your decision-making process, we have some information about the risks and benefits of having laser hair removal at Laser Hair Removal: Risks and Benefits.
Please note that this page is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for qualified, individualized medical advice. You should discuss your potential elective procedure with your own doctor(s), including your primary care physician and the doctor who will perform your procedure if you decide to proceed.
How it’s done
Laser hair removal does not hurt, so you won’t need any anesthesia or sedation. When you arrive, the laser hair removal technician will evaluate your skin and hair to determine what settings are best for your laser treatment. A cold gel may be applied to your skin to protect it. Then a pulse of light at the chosen settings will be used on an unobtrusive area of your skin. The technician waits for ten minutes, then checks that area to make sure there were no adverse reactions. The laser settings can be adjusted as necessary.
When the technician determines that the right settings have been chosen, then the main treatment begins. The laser will be gradually passed over the area of treatment. The laser works by targeting darker structures. Because hair is darker than the surrounding skin, the hair follicles receive a significant dose of laser energy and become heated, while the skin is relatively unaffected. This heating damages the hair follicle, reducing the chance that it will grow hair after the treatment. The greater the difference in pigmentation between the hair and the skin, the more effective laser hair removal will be; coarse dark hair on light skin is the easiest to treat.
Preparing for the procedure
Choosing your doctor
While cosmetic dermatology procedures may be offered at spas and beauty salons, they’re actually technical procedures that should be performed by qualified medical professionals. Your provider should have the degree MD (Medical Doctor), or should be an RN (Registered Nurse) or PA (Physician’s Assistant) who is under the direct supervision of an MD. Ideally, this doctor should be trained and board-certified in either plastic surgery or dermatology.
When you go to a doctor’s clinic for laser hair removal, be aware that the doctor whose name is on the clinic may not be directly involved in your treatment; you may never even meet him or her. Sometimes, the doctor doesn’t even stay at the clinic during the day! For safety reasons, it’s best to have an MD on-site who has examined you personally. This is because while the risks from these procedures are small, adverse reactions can and do happen, so you want someone present who can deal with problems if they do arise. When you call to schedule an appointment, ask who will be performing the procedure and whether a qualified physician will be present in the clinic during the procedure.
For more help in your search for a cosmetic dermatologist, visit our How to Find the Best Cosmetic Dermatologist page. At Doctor Review, you can also search providers for patient reviews to help you find the very best.
Getting ready for the procedure
Laser hair removal targets the roots of hair. Plucking or waxing removes the root, so laser hair removal cannot affect hair follicles where these have been performed. You should stop any plucking or waxing for at least six weeks prior to laser hair removal. You should also stop shaving for a few days prior to the procedure, so there will be some dark hair growth for the laser to target.
Your skin will be irritated for several days after surgery. It may be red and swollen, and may itch or feel mildly painful.
It will take two to three weeks for the hair in the treated area to fall out. You may be tempted to pluck these hairs, but you should avoid this, as the skin is already irritated and may become further irritated or infected by plucking.
Laser hair removal only affects follicles where the hair is actively growing at the time of treatment. Because hair goes through cycles of growth, not all hairs in the treated area will be growing at the time of treatment. That means that you will need several treatments to remove all (or nearly all) of the hair from the treated area. Usually, three to six treatments are necessary to completely remove hair.