When I first began laser hair removal sessions on my sideburns, I had no clue what I was in for. All I could think about was that, in the foreseeable future, I wouldn’t ever have to sit through painful threading appointments for my sideburns again—and that was a goddamn miracle, as far as I was concerned.
Truth be told, it was a bit of an impulse purchase. I bought a package of six sessions at a laser and skin care center a few months prior, so I hadn’t really taken the time to research what getting laser hair removal on your face is like before I invested my money. I just figured, hey, I already spend money on threading my sideburns—why not spend more money on getting the hair permanently removed?
For the record: Body hair is perfectly natural, wherever it is. My decision to first begin threading my sideburns and subsequently laser them off was a personal one for me, just as it would be for anyone else. (In my case, for instance, I primarily made this decision due to the simple fact I am too lazy to continue to get threaded every few weeks). Of course, I quickly found out just exactly what it’s like to get laser hair removal on your face—and there were a few unexpected things I discovered.
In addition, board certified dermatologists Azadeh Shirazi and Shari Sperling share their expertise on everything you need to know about laser hair removal on your face.
Meet the Expert
- Azadeh Shirazi, MD is a board-certified dermatologist specializing in medical, surgical, and cosmetic dermatology. She delivers highly customized care to meet each patient’s unique skin needs at La Jolla Dermatology and Laser Surgery Center.
- Shari Sperling, DO, is a board certified dermatologist who specializes in medical, cosmetic, laser and surgical dermatology for adults and children.
Should you get laser hair removal to de-fuzz your face? Keep scrolling for all the details.
First Things First: Make Sure It Is Right for You
It is important that you see a doctor or reputable medical professional to make sure that laser hair removal is right for you as it is not recommended for everyone. "If you are tanning or have active skin conditions (such as eczema or acne) it can worsen them so be sure to see a dermatologist for an evaluation before starting treatment," says says Azadeh Shirazi, MD. "If you have tattoos or prior systemic Gold Therapy [to treat arthritis] it can cause the skin to turn a color, so be sure you let your practitioner know your history."
In addition, board certified dermatologist Shari Sperling of Sperling Dermatology says that there are other factors to consider as well. "Those with dark skin need to be careful to use the appropriate laser that has the right wavelength for dark skin," she explains. "Those with blonde or white hair also are not candidates for laser hair removal."
Sperling also says that if you are tan you should wait for it to fade prior to treatment for best results.
You Will Have To Shave Your Face
If you’ve had any type of laser hair removal before, you likely know you need to shave the area before treating it. So, I suppose this wouldn’t come as a complete surprise to someone who isn’t a novice. I, however, was a complete novice. So, the day I found out that for it to work, the hair needs to be below the skin’s surface, was a strange one for me. Strange or not, shaving is an important part of the laser process: If you don’t do it, the laser can burn your skin, which is not something that anyone wants.
"Shave the treatment area 24 hours before as you don’t want hair on the surface of the skin," says Shirazi. "On the day of your treatment, remove any lotions, make-up and deodorants." She does caution, however, that for best results you shouldn't do any other types of hair removal besides shaving for several weeks leading up to your laser treatment. "Do not wax or tweeze for 6 weeks before your treatment as it can reduce the effectiveness of the treatment."
To safely remove the peach fuzz and facial hair without any nicks and cuts, it is a good idea to use a razor that is made for the face. The blade will be smaller and easier to maneuver than your larger leg shaver. One good option is the Sephora Collection Metal Facial Razor ($16).
Yes, It May Hurt
I mean, yes, I expected it to hurt. It’s called laser hair removal, and the word “laser” doesn’t exactly have a cuddly connotation. But the amount of pain I expected was less than the amount of pain I ended up feeling, especially the first time I went. Perhaps this was because it was on my face—but I’m not being dramatic when I say every time the laser technician activated the machine, I saw a bright light behind my eyes and briefly thought I was called to God’s kingdom or something. Yes, it was just the device activated against my temple, and yes, I would very quickly realize that. I never said I was the best with pain.
"You may feel a prickling or stinging that varies in intensity depending on the location and the density of the hair," explains Shirazi. "So those with coarse, darker, thicker hair will experience a more intense sensation. Some people compare the feeling to a rubber band snapping onto the skin."
Shirazi says that there are things that can be done to help ease the pain. "For your comfort, many times a topical numbing cream is available or cold air is applied to make it more comfortable."
The Pain Lessens With Each Treatment
All that said, the pain was far more bearable after the first session. Honestly, I thought I was just becoming more tolerant of it, and I was so proud of myself for that I announced it to the laser technician—only for her to tell me that, in fact, laser hair removal just gets less painful as time goes (because you have less hair to treat). So, it’s not that you grow more tolerant of pain, it’s that the device is doing its job. Cool. Still, less pain is good!
For Best Results, Don't Skip Appointments
Like I said earlier, I’ve been going to laser hair removal sessions for my sideburns since early 2018—which, if you consider the general wait time between sessions is about four to six weeks, means I should have been to a lot of sessions by now. But, I also only bought a package of six sessions.
I’m not great when it comes to keeping appointments, especially when they’re spaced out with month-long waits in between. Things like general life commitments come up, and I just forget to make a follow-up appointment. Plus, I was seeing results—a month after two sessions, the hair wasn’t growing back. I suppose it was a bit naïve to assume I was a person who had a really good reaction to laser hair removal (after only two out of six packaged sessions). But, because I still hadn’t done my research on how it worked, and I didn’t know that consistency is the only way that laser hair removal will work on a semi-permanent basis. At the very least, you’re ahead of me, because you’re reading this article.
Here’s the reality—even if it takes a while, the hair will still grow back. Two sessions, or even three sessions, or four sessions, won’t permanently stop hair growth in the spot where you’re getting laser hair removal. In my case, it took two and a half months before I started noticing small patches of regrowth on my sideburns, and I realized I needed to start being more consistent with my appointments.
If you are consistent with your appointments, Shirazi says your hair will for the most part be gone for good, however you may need occasional touch ups. "It offers permanent hair reduction, so every time you do a treatment there will be a set of hair follicles that are permanently destroyed and it generally lasts for years. Although maintenance treatment is recommended as we are born with millions of hair follicles," she says.
You Might Break Out
In the long-term, laser hair removal will actually lessen the number of blemishes and breakouts you get because it’s technically decreasing the chances of ingrown hairs. But, in my case, I did break out around my sideburns as hair started to grow back, particularly when I wasn’t consistent with my visits. However, this can likely be avoided by exfoliating and, you know, not waiting two and a half months between your laser hair removal appointments.
Shirazi says that is not uncommon, however there are things you can do to minimize these side effects. "Breakouts and redness, swelling are all common and expected. I recommend an exfoliating product like ClariFY pads or GlySal Body Spray starting two weeks prior as it helps with cell turnover and reduces the risk of breakouts that many people experience," she says. "Right after treatment, I have my patients use SootheHC two to three times a day for a week to calm redness, bumps, and inflammation. Be gentle with the skin, avoid scrubs, tight clothing, and exfoliants for a week after. "
Avoid using harsh scrubs and instead use an exfoliating cloth to help remove the buildup of dead hair beneath the surface. One good option is the Loran Luxury Bamboo Washcloths ($16).
Stock up on Sunscreen
Your laser hair technician will tell you this, as mine did, but it bears repeating. Sunscreen is important no matter what, but it’s going to be your BFF before and during the laser hair removal process. This is because your skin is extra sensitive while you’re getting the treatments done, and the chance of getting a burn is far higher than usual.
Shirazi says it is also important to stay away from the sun before laser hair removal. "Avoid tanning or sun exposure and use an SPF of 30 or higher," she says.
After treatment, you’ll also want to switch to a sunscreen that’s at least SPF 30, and has zinc oxide in it for maximum protection. Try Drunk Elephant Umbra Sheer Physical Daily Defense SPF 30 ($34) to help protect your skin after treatment.
At the end of the day, choosing to go try laser hair removal is a big decision—but being aware of what to expect is an important part of deciding whether or not to give it a try.