For some guys, body hair, while totally normal, is a pain point. But thanks to today’s latest technology, laser hair removal for men can make getting rid of hair—from a tiny patch to a full-on back—easy, and without the usual side effects like razor burn and ingrown hairs. Best of all, it’s more or less permanent.
As a growing number of men are ditching razors and turning to lasers to smooth over their more hirsute areas, we did a deep dive into everything you need to know about laser hair removal for men, from how it works to how it feels, how much it costs, the advantages and the disadvantages, as well as exactly what you can expect should you decide to take the plunge. To help us get a better understanding, we talked to industry experts Dr. Nikhil Dhingra of Spring Street Dermatology, Jackie Orena, Spa Manager of Truth + Beauty and Dr. Corey L. Hartman, Founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about laser hair removal for men.
What Is Laser Hair Removal?
Laser hair removal is a procedure by which a laser beam is aimed at the skin to remove hair and prevent it from growing back. Sound scary? Hardly. Dr. Dhingra helped break it down for us: “Avoiding the [mundane] physics of it all, when the laser hits melanin in the hair follicles, it generates a reaction that ultimately leads to destruction of the hair follicle.” Over time and several treatments—the course of which is determined by a pre-treatment consultation with a professional—hairs grow back increasingly finer, until they cease growing altogether.
The fact that the laser acts on the melanin within the follicle means laser hair removal is more effective on people whose hair is darker in pigment than their skin color, explained Orena. “If your hair is light, blonde or looks like fuzz, it is likely the laser cannot read the pigment in the follicle.” Dr. Dhingra told us that newer laser technologies are able to address darker hair against darker skin, but still advised consulting with a board certified dermatologist to ensure you’re a candidate.
Benefits of Laser Hair Removal
Because men tend to have thicker, coarser hair, laser hair removal can be a saving grace because of its ability to nix hair growth without causing the razor burn, ingrown hairs, or chronic irritation associated with more common methods of hair removal such as shaving, waxing and sugaring. It's also pretty much permanent, which cuts down on maintenance and feels overall more natural—a definite plus for certain areas. "Anyone who’s tried to shave a hard-to-reach area like the back or a sensitive area like the ears genitals, or backside can definitely understand the appeal of not needing to battle tricky areas for the rest of their lives," Dr. Dhingra said.
The most common men’s areas for laser hair removal include:
- Back & Shoulders: Due to their hard-to-reach nature, laser hair removal can be an optimal way to do away with hair in these areas for a tank top-ready look with minimal maintenance.
- Beardline & Neck: If you’re prone to razor burn and constant ingrowns on the sensitive and volatile neck area, laser hair removal can help maintain a sharp beard edge without the need for a razor.
- Butt: Dr. Dhingra told us that more and more men are turning to permanent laser hair removal for their backsides. "Lasering here makes some men more confident revealing the area and it also decreases nuisances like acne and ingrown hairs."
- Nether Regions: Orena pointed out, "Some men are looking to get their whole package hairless. We’ve heard it referred to as ‘Mankini’ or ‘Brozilian,’ and at Truth + Beauty we call it 'The Whole Truth,' but this basically covers the base of the penis, shaft, testicles, and butt crack."
When it comes to laser hair removal for men, different lasers have different benefits. Intense Pulsed Light or IPL, for example, works better on lighter to medium skin tones, explained Orena, while a diode laser tends to work on a more diverse range of skin types and an Alexandrite laser is best suited for light to olive complexions as well as larger areas of hair removal. At his practice, Dr. Dhingra uses both Alexandrite and Nd:YAG lasers, praising the latter for being generally accepted as the safest for dark skin tones. And Dr. Hartman uses the Syneron-Candela GentleMax Pro, which provides both Alexandrite and Nd:YAG wavelengths to safely remove unwanted hair from most skin types, from very light to deeply pigmented.
To ensure the most effective laser hair removal routine, your pre-treatment consultation with your laser professional will help determine which type of laser is best suited for your skin type and depilatory goals. Also, be sure to discuss the following: any tendencies to scar or form keloids, recent periods spent in the sun which may have caused the skin to tan, if you’re prone to cold sores or genital herpes, as well as any medicines you may be taking.
How to Prepare for Laser Hair Removal
Before the big day comes, you’ll want to make sure to discuss the necessary pre-treatment steps with your practitioner. Dr. Dhingra recommends avoiding topical actives such as acids and retinols for at least a week prior to your appointment, and ensure you haven’t had any waxing or plucking of the area for several months before. Also—and this is a big also—avoid the sun as well as showing up with a tan, as tanned skin can increase the risk of a laser burn.
On the day of your procedure, you’ll need to shave the area to be treated down to the skin using a quality shaving cream to avoid razor burn, and Orena adds that it’s important not to work out before your appointment, as it can cause the body to retain heat which may make you extra-sensitive to the laser.
What to Expect During Laser Hair Removal
The procedure itself is fairly simple and straightforward, taking anywhere from a couple of minutes for a small area, such as the upper lip, to an hour or more for larger areas like the legs or back. Your practitioner will aim the handheld laser device at the area to be treated, pull the skin taut, and direct the laser at your skin, vaporizing the hair. There’s a slight smell to it, but it quickly dissipates.
Dr. Dhingra likened the pain of laser hair removal for men to the feeling of a rubber band repeatedly snapping on the skin, and said it varies depending on the area being treated. However, he noted that the intensity of the reaction diminishes with repeated sessions as the follicles reduce in size and thickness. For those with a low pain threshold, Orena recommends taking over-the-counter pain medication before your treatment, adding that some practitioners may also offer an ice roller for during the procedure. Numbing cream is also an option, but she pointed out that it may not work with all types of lasers, so if you’re worried about the pain of laser hair removal, be sure to bring this up during your consultation.
You’ll see results immediately afterward; however, you’ll still need a series of treatments to achieve permanent hair removal. Orena said depending on the area you are treating, it could take 6-8 sessions, and sometimes you may even need to do touchups after. Treatments are done 4-6 weeks apart so that you can target each growth cycle.
At-Home Laser Hair Treatment vs. In-Office
When it comes to at-home devices, both Dr. Dhingra and Dr. Hartman agreed that they don’t come close to measuring up to the effectiveness of laser hair removal treatments performed by a board-certified dermatologist. Dr. Hartman pointed out that at-home devices aren’t even classified as lasers, instead using Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) to remove hair, which may lead to burns, blisters, excessive redness, hyperpigmentation, and even scarring. Another great point Dr. Hartman made was that at-home devices aren’t regulated by the FDA, meaning there is little research or evidence to prove their ability to remove hair—whether at all or permanently—when compared to procedures done by a dermatologist.
However, Dr. Dhingra did mention the Tria line of hair-removal devices which, because they rely on IPL technology rather than true lasers, have been particularly well-received. Still, because IPL devices pose a risk to dark skin tones, it’s best to consult with a dermatologist.
All in all, the side effects of laser hair removal are nominal. Some less-common side effects include blistering as well as skin lightening or darkening, so it’s vital to be open about any pre-existing conditions and habits with your practitioner beforehand.
After your procedure, the skin will often be red and swollen, but this usually calms down after a few hours. Dr Dhingra recommends keeping your aftercare routine gentle and simple: apply ice to reduce pain and swelling if necessary, cleanse using a gentle cleanser, and follow up with moisturizer. Also, avoid the sun, and always apply lots of sunscreen to prevent hypopigmentation and hyperpigmentation. Orena also recommends avoiding working out after your laser appointment, as the excess heat generated can further irritate your skin.
The Final Takeaway
With costs starting at $100 to $500 a session, laser hair removal certainly isn’t cheap, and that doesn't include maintenance and other expenses that may go into preparation. But if you find yourself waging war against both hair and the scourge of ingrown hairs and razor burn, the myriad benefits of laser hair removal for men may outweigh the significant cost. Before you make any plans, however, all three panelists we’ve consulted were adamant about the importance of finding a reputable practitioner to ensure laser hair removal solves your problem, rather than creating more.