If the thought of shaving your armpits one more time puts you on edge, it may be time to consider laser hair removal. This is a very common medical procedure that uses a laser (aka a concentrated beam of light) to reduce or remove unwanted body and facial hair. One of the best things about laser hair removal is that it can be very long-lasting—even permanent—as long as it's done properly.
To get the most out of your laser hair removal, you'll need to follow the guidance of your dermatologist and make sure you see them for several initial treatments. But some additional factors also play a role. Here's what you need to know about making laser hair removal last forever (or close to it), straight from board-certified dermatologists Michele Green, MD, Hadley King, MD, and Corey L. Hartman, MD.
Meet the Expert
- Michele Green, MD, is a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist based in New York City.
- Hadley King, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City.
- Corey L. Hartman, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist based in Birmingham, Alabama.
What Is Laser Hair Removal?
Laser hair removal is a procedure that's used to remove body hair. Your dermatologist will use a laser at a specific wavelength to target the pigment, or melanin, within your hair follicles. "The light energy absorbed by the melanin is converted to heat, destroying the hair follicles," explains Green.
Hair follicles that are in their growth phase are destroyed when they absorb the laser energy— but hair follicles that are in the dormant stage and the surrounding skin are unaffected by the laser.
Hartman tells us that laser hair removal is seen as the gold standard treatment for a more permanent reduction of unwanted hair. The treatment has many benefits, he says, including:
- Eliminating or reducing unwanted hair
- Reducing the time and expense of other less permanent forms of hair removal, like waxing
- Alleviating skin problems associated with hair growth, like folliculitis and discoloration
- Smoothing the skin and making it more even
- Preventing and eliminating ingrown hairs
How Long Can You Expect Laser Hair Removal to Last?
The effects of laser hair removal can be long-lasting, but this is not a "one-and-done" type of treatment. Instead, you'll need about five or more treatments to remove hair for a long period or even permanently. "After a full session of five to six treatments, most patients are hair-free for years," Hartman says.
The most common area where hair might grow back is the face—particularly in areas like the chin and neck. "This is more common in women of menopausal age, as when estrogen levels drop in the body, testosterone levels may increase which leads to more hair production," Hartman says.
Hair can also grow back on the body and is most likely to occur on the arms, legs, chest, and stomach. Typically when hair grows back, it's more sparse and finer than it was before treatment. That said, the longevity someone gets out of laser hair removal will vary from one person to the next.
What Factors Impact How Long Laser Hair Removal Lasts?
Some hair might naturally grow back over time, which is why maintenance treatments once or twice a year are recommended, King tells us. But aside from natural and expected hair growth, there are some factors that might make your hair grow back more quickly.
"Hormonal changes can impact the regrowth of hair after laser hair removal," Green says. This could impact people in a wide range of scenarios. For example, someone who gets pregnant after laser hair removal may need a touchup session after having children, and someone with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) may experience sudden hair growth on their face, Green says.
This could also impact people who are on hormonal birth control. Some people can change birth control without experiencing any significant effects, but other people might experience a large hormonal shift that results in hair regrowth.
Skin and Hair Color
Laser hair removal targets melanin, so the treatment typically works best on people with light skin and dark hair. "That's the ideal setup so that the device can target the hair without damaging the skin," King says. "Darker skin will increase the risk of burning and lighter hair can decrease the effectiveness."
"Laser hair removal works optimally on those with fair skin and dark hair because the hair-to-skin contrast is sharp and the laser will easily target the hair against the skin," Green says. "This does not mean that laser hair removal will not work on other skin tones and hair colors, as advancements in laser technology allow laser hair removal to be performed on dark skin and lighter hair colors."
The state of the hair follicle
If the hair follicle is destroyed during the laser hair treatment, the effects of the treatment will be permanent. If the hair follicle is damaged—but not destroyed—the hair follicle can recover and the hair might eventually regrow. Usually, when the hair grows back in this situation it's lighter and thinner than before.
Are There Ways to Make Laser Hair Removal Last Longer?
If you really want your laser hair removal to last, it's important to follow the guidance of your dermatologist and make sure you return for the number of treatments they recommend. Here are some other things you can do to get the most out of each treatment, courtesy of Hartman:
- Let your hair grow to at least a quarter of an inch long before each treatment. This means you'll need to steer clear of any form of hair removal for about four to six weeks before your laser hair removal treatment.
- Refrain from using products that could damage your skin barrier within a week of treatment. This includes scrubs and other products with exfoliating ingredients such as alpha-hydroxy acids and retinoids.
- Use sunscreen daily and be extra vigilant about using and reapplying it the month before your treatment.
- On the day of your appointment, you should arrive clean and free of skincare products like sunscreen, oils, lotions, and deodorant. These products could potentially create a barrier between the laser and your body hair.
The Final Takeaway
Laser hair removal is a popular hair removal treatment that's typically both effective and long-lasting. But for the best results, you will need to return for about five or more initial treatments and follow the guidance of your dermatologist.