Derms Break Down Exactly What to Expect With Laser Hair Removal

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Whether you have some pesky fuzz in spots you don’t want it, or you’re tired of shaving long stretches of hair, laser hair removal may seem like the most seamless solution. You’ve likely heard rumors about laser hair removal—from how much discomfort it begets to how well it works—so we’re here to clear up any confusion. We got the inside scoop from experts on everything about the treatment, from how long results last to what goes down at the first appointment.

Should patients have a consultation before making a laser hair appointment?

Most experts recommend beginning with a consultation if you’re new to laser hair removal. “During the consultation, your provider will likely discuss past medical history, medications, desired treatment area, prior methods of hair removal as well as laser hair removal treatment instructions, risks and expectations,” says Charlotte, NC dermatologists Gilly Munavalli, MD and Rachel Yang, NP. “The provider will also evaluate the hair to ensure the patient is a good candidate for laser hair removal.”

Anaheim, CA dermatologist Kimberly Jerdan, MD says the most important aspect for those looking into laser hair removal is to be upfront with your ethnic background, tanning capabilities and hyperpigmentation risk before getting started. “Although I appear light-skinned as a dermatologist, my mixed Peruvian/Caucasian ethnicity makes me the notorious candidate with a high risk for hyperpigmentation or dark spots,” she says.

“I usually ask my laser hair removal patients if they get a dark spot after getting a pimple. This helps me address if they are prone to hyperpigmentation and whether I need to start with gentle settings.”

Who might not a good candidate for laser hair removal?

An unfortunate truth, but one definitely worth knowing before you book your sessions: laser hair removal doesn’t work for every skin tone. “Not all skin types can be treated with the same lasers and settings,” explains New York dermatologist Dhaval G. Bhanusali, MD. “Darker skin types need specialists trained in ethnic skin, such as board-certified dermatologists, or burns can happen—and they happen often,” he adds, contending that darker skin types also require more treatments, but tend to respond well.

Another thing to keep in mind: “Darker skin types have a higher risk of hyperpigmentation with certain wavelengths that may be more effective for lighter skin types,” adds Dr. Jerdan.

“People with very light hair or hair that’s grey or white are not candidates for laser hair removal,” says Harrison, NY dermatologist Jennifer Silverman Kitchin, MD. “The best candidates are people with light skin and dark hair, as the laser is treating the pigment.“

Upland, CA dermatologist Sandra Lee, MD says if your hair is white, silver or very blond, you might not want to pay the extra money for laser hair removal as all of the hair is going to grow back. “This is because the laser doesn’t ‘know’ it’s treating hair; it’s actually treating color,” she explains.

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Is there anything patients need to do before or after the appointment?

Experts advise that the area must be cleanly shaven within 24 hours of treatment. Additionally, Fresno, CA dermatologist Kathleen Behr, MD notes that areas being treated should not be tweezed or plucked before or between treatments because “the hair bulb in the hair follicle is the target of the laser.”

The area also needs to be free of makeup, lotion, deodorant and sunscreen, says Saddle Brooke, NJ dermatologist Dr. Fredric Haberman. He adds that “the area cannot be treated if it has been exposed to sun within four weeks prior to treatment,” so you’ll need to shield that spot from UV rays. You’ll also need to avoid fake tans of any kind, as “the laser cannot tell the difference between a fake or real tan,” says New Orleans dermatologist Dr. Skylar Souyoul. Additionally, Dr. Behr advises that patients should refrain from working out for 24 hours after treatment.

What happens at the first appointment? How long does it last?

During the appointment, the technician will apply the laser hair removal scanner to part of the area being treated, and once that area is complete, they will move to the next spot, explains Southlake, TX dermatologist Janine Hopkins, MD. “It can take as little as five minutes to an hour depending on the size of the area and how many areas are being treated.” According to Dr. Haberman, some patients receive a numbing gel depending on the area and skin sensitivity.

What kind of pain or discomfort is to be expected?

The experts say patients should expect no to moderate discomfort during the treatment. “Each laser pulse feels like a quick rubber band snap. For most patients, topical numbing is not necessary because the discomfort is minimal,” say Dr. Munavalli and Yang. They note that for patients with more sensitive skin, the area may feel like it has a slight sunburn for up to a few hours, depending on the area treated. Dr. Haberman adds that the discomfort may be more prominent in places where the skin is thinner, such as the nose, chin or temples.

When do patients generally start to see results? How long do they last?

Dr. Behr says patients tend to see about a 20% decrease in hair growth a couple of weeks after the first treatment. After a complete series of six to eight treatments, patients generally report about 90% permanent hair loss and return for yearly touch ups.

On average, how many treatments do patients need?

Although Dr. Haberman notes that the exact number of laser treatments required varies, the average tends to be six to eight sessions spaced out every four to six weeks, so the treatment can take about six to nine months for full results.

Are there any side effects?

“After treatment, the hair follicles will look red and swollen (perifollicular erythema and edema), which can last hours to days after treatment,” say Dr. Munavalli and Yang. They suggest applying ice and a topical steroid twice daily following treatment to help abate these side effects.

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