When it comes to pregnancy and beauty, you likely already know about the common things traditionally considered off-limits: Topical retinoids, injectables like Botox, and hydroquinone, to name a few. But what about laser hair removal? The answer is more complex. Why? According to experts, a lot more research needs to be done.
"Currently, there isn't enough information to say whether it's safe to undergo laser hair removal while pregnant," says Dr. Stephanie Hack, a board-certified OBGYN and Founder of Lady Parts Doctor. Because of that, the experts we spoke with agreed that it's best for expecting mommas to plan to book any laser hair removal treatments pre-or-post baby.
According to Hack, plus board-certified OBGYN Dr. Rachel Westbay and laser hair removal esthetician Shelley D'Aquino, it's worth diving into the details to understand the potential risks laser hair removal poses for pregnant women. Here's what you need to know.
Meet the Expert
- Dr. Stephanie Hack is a board-certified OBGYN and Founder of Lady Parts Doctor.
- Dr. Rachel Westbay is a board-certified dermatologist at Marmur Medical in New York City.
- Shelley D'Aquino is the owner of and head esthetician at Le Parlour NYC Laser Spa.
What Is Laser Hair Removal?
"Laser hair removal is a medical procedure that uses a concentrated beam of light, the laser, to remove unwanted hair," explains Dr. Rachel Westbay, a board-certified dermatologist at Marmur Medical in New York City. "The light is absorbed by the pigment or melanin in the hair, which converts the light energy into heat that damages the hair follicles. This damage inhibits or delays future hair growth."
It's worth mentioning that while it's often referred to as a "permanent" form of hair removal, that's a bit of a misnomer. Initially, multiple treatments are required, and maintenance treatments may be needed, Westbay explains. Pregnancy aside, she explains that not everyone is a great candidate for laser hair removal, and it's most effective on those with lighter skin and darker hair.
Is It Safe to Get Laser Hair Removal During Pregnancy?
The short answer is: We can't say for sure laser treatment is safe or unsafe during pregnancy. "Due to the lack of standardized guidelines and research, elective laser treatment, like laser hair removal, is advised against during pregnancy to prevent taking unnecessary, unknown risks," says Hack.
The Risks of Laser Hair Removal During Pregnancy
There are a few potential problems at play. First, there's the issue of what the laser could do to the fetus. According to Hack, lasers emit radiation, which can be in the form of light, ultraviolet, or infrared radiation, says Hack.
She adds that they have varying degrees of hazard classes, and the more powerful the laser, the higher the class. "Powerful lasers can pose a danger if misused. Radiation poses a risk to the developing fetus, especially as the organs are forming in the first trimester. Exposure to high doses of radiation can lead to miscarriage, preterm birth, and fetal malformations," she says.
Westbay points out that laser hair removal, in particular, may not be problematic. "There is no reason to infer that there can be any reasonable damage to a fetus from the energy sources," she says. "Elective laser treatments are usually not recommended during pregnancy, but no evidence supports this. The thickness of the pregnant abdomen, uterus, and amniotic fluid make it unlikely that significant amounts of laser energy would reach the fetus during cutaneous laser therapy."
Westbay cites a 2019 review of 22 studies that looked at 380 women in all trimesters of pregnancy who were treated with various laser wavelengths. There was only one clinically-significant event, a case of premature membrane rupture with no further morbidity. She explains that the cause wasn't clear; it was uncertain whether it was related to the laser procedure.
However, there are still other potential risks of lasers that are more certain. "Some of the adverse side effects of laser treatments include burned skin and hyperpigmentation, which can be more likely to occur in pregnant women," explains Shelley D'Aquino, owner of and head esthetician at Le Parlour NYC Laser Spa. Hormonal changes increase the likelihood of skin darkening and melasma, which increases the potential for these risks, she says. The laser cannot tell the difference between pigmented hairs and skin, adds Westbay.
Additionally, pregnant people have a compromised immune system, and any burn can take longer to heal, leading to infection and possibly even scarring, Westbay notes. Finally, not all topical anesthetics—typically used during a laser hair removal treatment—are considered safe in pregnancy: "For instance, lidocaine and prilocaine are considered pregnancy category B, but tetracaine is not," Westbay explains.
Alternate Pregnancy-Safe Hair Removal Methods
The good news: You have plenty of other options. "There are many alternatives to laser hair removal for getting rid of unwanted hair while pregnant. You can wax, thread, tweeze or shave," says D'Aquino.
Westbay adds sugaring to that list, although she notes avoiding depilatory creams is probably better. "The science is still out as to whether or not they're safe during pregnancy. They contain the active ingredients barium sulfide powder and calcium thioglycolate, which cause the hair to dissolve into a jelly-like mass that can be wiped away from the skin. Although no evidence proves depilatory creams harm developing babies, skipping them is probably best. Plus, because their odor is so pungent, they could likely exacerbate any nausea in an expecting mama," she says.
The Bottom Line
While there's still very little data or studies on the risks of laser hair removal during pregnancy, it's never a bad idea to err on the side of caution and opt for other hair removal options until you deliver. That being said, if you do feel strongly that you want to consider hair removal while pregnant, make sure to discuss the risks with your doctor beforehand, she adds.
Wilkerson EC, Van Acker MM, Bloom BS, Goldberg DJ. Utilization of laser therapy during pregnancy: a systematic review of the maternal and fetal effects reported from 1960 to 2017. Dermatol Surg. 2019;45(6):818-828.