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I've spent years telling myself that I'm ready to get laser hair removal. Sure, it can be expensive and uncomfortable, and depending on the area of choice—it involves letting a stranger get up close and personal with your most intimate parts. But, as someone who waxes and shaves often, to imagine an end to the inconvenience, time, and ingrown hairs that I experience made that tired beauty-is-pain mantra seem like a worthy reality.
Simply put, there's a lot to discuss when it comes to the social constructs around our beauty choices, and I want to make one thing clear: Body hair is nothing to be ashamed of. Permanent beauty procedures, laser included, are an extremely personal choice and aren't for everyone. That being said, for me, laser treatment was not about ridding myself of hair completely. Instead, it was about simplifying my personal beauty routine and making my life just a little bit easier.
So, sick of the expense of monthly waxes and feeling ready to finally check an item off my to-do list, I decided the time had come to take the plunge. I walked into my first session at top NYC salon Spruce & Bond (which is no longer operating as of October 2019) not sure what to expect (besides pain). I met with esthetician Ashley Taylor, who gently talked me through the step-by-step process. Then I put on a pair of protective sunglasses and she got to work.
Read on to learn more about how laser hair removal works and how effective it is.
What Is Laser Hair Removal?
Perhaps knowing exactly how laser hair removal works might make it a bit less intimidating. I tapped Spruce and Bond's lead laser specialist, Kristen Rogers, to get the lowdown on how the process works. When performed correctly, "Laser hair removal kills the follicle of hair and is extremely targeted without affecting the skin. The laser is a concentrated beam of light that uses heat to destroy the follicle and helps delay future hair growth." Specifically, the laser targets melanin (pigment) in the skin or hair, so if skin color and laser settings aren't accounted for accurately (i.e. targeted enough), the skin can be burned.
Okay, now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's talk about the cost. This hair-zapping service can come with a hefty price tag and can vary depending on your location and the area you want free of fuzz. If you're treating a small area like the upper lip, expect to pay anywhere between $100-150 per session, but for areas like the legs and arms you should expect to dish out a couple hundred dollars.
How To Prepare for Laser Hair Removal
When I went in for my consultation, I was interested in hair removal around my bikini area, but I had also considered lasering the hair on my face. When I spoke to Taylor about it, she noted that my facial hair, despite being a nuisance to me, was actually too fine and light. "There must be some contrast between skin color and hair color for laser hair removal to be effective. Ideally, the hair must have pigment," she said. "In addition, coarse hair responds better than fine, or vellus, hair."
If the potential discomfort is a big turn-off, I totally get it, but Taylor did offer tips that can make it all a bit more manageable. "Shave the area to be treated the night before or the morning of the treatment and take a pain reliever at least 30 minutes before if needed."
What To Expect from Laser Hair Removal
The beauty-is-pain trope may feel a bit played out these days, but I can't lie, as I found the process to be uncomfortable. While appointments are quick, no more than 20 minutes for me, my best description of the procedure is that it's as if you are repeatedly being snapped by a rubber band. Different places also hurt differently, so keep that in mind when discussing with your technician the areas in which you're going to get the procedure done.
I was also surprised to learn that there's no guarantee that any area will be completely bare just because you complete a treatment plan. "A common misconception is that the hair will be completely gone after three to five treatments and never grow again," Taylor notes. "You can expect to need at least five to 10 treatments every four to six weeks to achieve a 70 percent to 90 percent overall reduction. After every treatment, you will see a gradual lessening of hair: The hair will start growing finer, lighter, and slower."
Also on the no-go list: sun exposure. "If a laser is used over a body part with recent sun exposure, it would be too much heat on the skin and could cause burning, hyperpigmentation (dark marks), and scarring." So while it may be tempting to soak up the sun, you'll want to make sure that any tanning is at least two weeks before or one week after your session. Because of this, I'd recommend starting treatments in the fall or winter (especially if you live in a cold climate), so come summertime, sun exposure is no longer a concern.
Consider skipping drinks the night before your treatment since hangovers make everything feel more painful.
Also, avoid drinking the night before or day of a laser treatment, according to Taylor. "Often during hangovers, our nervous system goes into an amplified state, experiencing shaking, sweating, and sensitivity to light, touch, and sound, " says Taylor.
Typically, the process of laser hair removal can take around six months with appointments every four to six weeks. But it's not unusual to see some results from the beginning. For me, after my first session, hair grew back much sparser than before. Still, it takes weeks for hair to fall out, and more sessions to have hair totally eliminated. Exfoliating in the shower with a sugar scrub will help speed along the process.
The Final Takeaway
I know it's obvious, but I want to reiterate the fact that everyone will have a different idea as to which procedure is right for them. As with makeup and skincare, there are trends in laser hair removal, but what's popular now does not have to be what's right for you. While Taylor notes that underarm, bikini, and lower leg seem to be the most popular areas of treatment in her experience, she's seen shifts in preferences over time. "Women used to get the full Brazilian and remove everything four or more years ago," she notes. "Now they're keeping a larger triangle and removing everything underneath. I've heard this called, 'the full-bush Brazilian.'" So know that as a personal (and mostly permanent) choice, this is a procedure that's entirely up to you.
American Society of Plastic Surgeons. What are the risks of laser hair removal?.