Laser hair removal has been around for a long time. Over two decades, in fact. Like all medical procedures (and especially the ones involving lasers), it's a come a long way since the mid-90s. Think it's just for light skin tones? Not anymore. You can even try laser hair removal at home now. With all the advancements that have been made, we figured it was a good time to consult the experts and get up to speed on what laser hair removal looks like in 2016. We asked Dr. Mitchell Chasin, founder of Reflections Center for Skin & Body, and Dr. Will Kirby, board-certified dermatologist and medical director at LaserAway, to fill us in on everything we need to know.
Scroll through for the answers to all of your laser hair removal questions!
In layman’s terms, Dr. Chasin describes the procedure like this, “Laser hair removal heats up the hair, which causes damage to the follicle, preventing that follicle from growing new hair.” Sounds straightforward enough, but why does it take multiple treatments? “Now the laser only works for hairs that are actively growing, which at any given time is about 10–15% of hairs on the body. This is why you will need at least six treatments to see full results. This is also why you can use laser hair removal to just thin hair on certain parts of your body, a technique many men prefer for chests and legs,” Dr. Chasin says.
There are two main differences between laser hair removal then and now. First, it’s more effective and available to a wider variety of skin tones. “Ten years ago, we probably only had one or two laser wavelengths being used for laser hair removal. We could really only target very dark, coarse hair on very light skin. Luckily, things have really progressed since then. There are now many wavelengths and types of lasers used, which means we can treat fine hair, thin hair, hair that’s brown or dirty blonde, and we can treat every skin tone safely. That’s a big advancement. We treat these different skin tones and hair types with different laser machines, so make sure the provider you choose has a selection of machines, so they can provide you safe and effective treatments,” Dr. Chasin says. Second, It’s less painful. One of the first questions that comes to mind when thinking of any laser is Does it hurt? The doctors insist, these days, it’s more uncomfortable than it is painful. “I tell my patients, if you’ve had a wax, you’ve had worse,” Dr. Chasin says. “In the past five years, we’ve seen advances in the speed of treatment as well as the comfort of the treatment. New devices have really made laser hair removal much more comfortable than a wax, and a lot faster than shaving or waxing.”
There are still some limitations. Dr. Kirby says laser hair removal is not effective for blonde, red, gray, or white hair. “There has to be some contrast, however faint, between skin tone and hair tone, with the hair being the darker tone,” Dr. Chasin says. “You’re still going to see the best results for very dark, coarse hair on very pale skin, but most hair types and all skin types can be treated. If you have light hair (red or dirty blonde shades), thin or fine hair, or are of Asian, Middle Eastern, Hispanic, or African descent, you want to make sure you’re seeing a provider who specializes in laser hair removal and has extensive experience with similar patients. Asking to see before and after photos (of similar patients) and asking how many lasers they have for laser hair removal is a great way to vet your provider’s experience and skill.”
Once you’ve found the provider that’s right for you, it’s time to prep. “It’s important to avoid the sun during your treatment series in order to increase the contrast between the color of the hair and the color of the skin,” Dr. Kirby says. “The laser is more effective when the hair color is more prominent.” Dr. Kirby adds that avoiding the sun reduces the risk of potential adverse reactions.
After your treatments, continue to avoid the sun. If you need a little a color in your life, Dr. Chasin says self-tanner is okay. (Try our favorite Tanning Towelettes, $48, from Kate Somerville). Just be sure to stop using sunless tanners two weeks before your next treatment.
Now for the details. Laser hair removal on the body usually takes six to eight treatments. For the face, expect 8-10 treatments for full hair removal, all spaced out approximately six weeks apart. “Your treated hair will fall out approximately 10–14 days post treatment, and your next cycle will start growing about the time of your next appointment in four to six weeks,” Dr. Kirby says. Keep in mind that hair grows at different rates on different parts of the body, so if you’re treating multiple areas your appointments may be spaced out at differing intervals.
And finally the big question, how permanent is permanent? Will it last forever? “Results from laser hair removal last as long as you don’t grow new hair,” Dr. Chasin says. “Hormonal fluctuations can cause your body to grow new hair or activate hair follicles that have never produced hair before, so for women, that’s typically pregnancy or menopause. It’s something to be aware of, but for most women, this is not going to require more than just periodic maintenance.”
What’s your preferred method of hair removal? Would you try laser hair removal? Tell us below!