“Beauty is pain.” We’ve all heard this phrase more times than we can count. As women, we know all too well the amount of plucking, exfoliating, filing, waxing, and shaving that goes into achieving even our base level of freshness.
It only makes sense that our immediate reaction to a new hair removal treatment would be to expect even more pain (especially when it involves lasers, the likes of which we’ve only seen before in Star Wars and Bond films).
But it doesn’t always have to be this way. In fact, laser hair removal is designed to take some of that stress and repetition out of your beauty routine. Still, there are more painless options that use similar tech, so you can be dolphin-smooth without all the fuss.
If you’ve made it here, it’s because you are a person who likes to do their research and who cares about their skin health. Let us help you by breaking down everything you need to know about laser hair removal.
So… What Even Is Laser Hair Removal?
Glad you asked! And no, it is not like waxing. (Cause, ouch!)
Laser hair removal works its magic by shooting a highly concentrated beam of light into the hair follicle. The pigment in the hair absorbs this light and converts it to heat, essentially burning and blocking the hair follicles, leaving you with long-term (but not permanent) hair removal.
Laser hair removal is most commonly used to treat high-density areas such as the armpits, legs, bikini line, and the dreaded mustache, but just about any area of the body can be zapped hair free with laser hair removal – excluding the eyelids and surrounding area (she’s sensitive 😉).
Since the light targets the pigment in the hair, laser hair removal is most effective on darker hair colors and less effective on low contrast colors like white, blonde, gray, and red hair.
What Hurts the Most?
We get it — this is probably your main concern when first stepping into the world of laser hair removal.
Laser hair removal can feel a little different for everyone. Generally, the laser will give a warm, tingly, slightly pinching sensation as it passes along your skin. Nothing too intense, but you will definitely feel it!
Each person’s experience with laser hair removal can feel a little different based on several factors: hair type, location, density, and even hair color. Skin type and heat sensitivity can also contribute to how (un)comfortable this treatment is for each person.
Repetition is key! The more treatments you go through, the more comfortable you will be (and the less hair you will have to remove). However, if you notice that your skin is more sensitive to the treatments, your doctor may apply a topical anesthetic to the area to ease any sorenes — lets just hope it doesn't wear off.
Treatments are relatively quick as the laser only has to pass over each area once for removal during a session. If you are still nervous, below are some tricks so that you can have a seamless hair removal experience and get that perfectly soft and glowing skin just in time for summer.
(TL;DR — you can use these tricks to help an uncomfortable experience be bearable, or you can skip to the good stuff and grab an IPL device instead for a painless hair removal experience.)
Put Some Prep in Your Step
While you can expect minor discomfort on your first encounter with the laser, there are several steps you can take to make your hair removal process as easy and stress-free as possible:
- Leave it to the Ph.D. Laser hair removal is designed for anyone with extra hair and is a cosmetic procedure at its core — but when it comes to lasers, it is better to be safe than sorry! Schedule a consultation with your healthcare provider to ensure you are a good candidate for laser hair removal.
- Espresso Depresso. This may be the hardest thing you’ve had to do for beauty this far… but avoiding coffee or tea can help avoid unnecessary skin sensitivity during your laser hair removal session.
- High and Dry. No one likes the feeling of dry, cracky skin. However, it is best to avoid using moisturizers, lotions, oils, or creams on the areas that will be treated on the day of your session.
- Razor Before Laser. Beginning four weeks prior to laser treatment, DON’T use any hair removal techniques that may damage the hair follicle (waxing, plucking, etc). DO shave the area the day before laser treatment. Shaving keeps the hair below the skin surface intact but helps remove any excess hair that could be burned during treatment and cause surface skin damage when the laser passes over it.
- Sun Bummer. It’s always summertime somewhere girlies, so this one may be a bummer — but it’s best to avoid both artificial and natural tanning before your lasering appointment. Lowering the level of contrast between your skin and hair color could decrease the effectiveness of the laser. In the weeks prior to your laser appointment, consistently use a strong SPF on the area you will be treating for best results.
Give It to Me Straight, Doc
You’ve talked to your doctor and made your first appointment. You’ve prepped your skin and body to the best of your ability, but what comes next?
We’re breaking down what happens during and after laser hair removal, so you can know whether it’s right for you.
When you arrive at the office, your doctor will clean the area being treated and in some cases may offer you a topical numbing cream. Your doctor may also provide protective goggles or glasses (hair removal, but make it fashion) for you to wear throughout the procedure. Then, they will begin the treatment by passing the laser over the entire area you want treated.
Depending on the size of the area, appointments could take just minutes (upper lip) or up to an hour (full back). You may smell smoke or burning hair. You know all those times when you left the curling iron in your hair just a little too long? That smell.
Your alarm bells might be ringing, but this is completely normal. It is just the laser’s heat removing hair from the follicle. It’s not comfy, but you’re not going to, like, die.
Immediately following your appointment, you may notice some redness and swelling. This is normal but if you find the area is still mildly irritated, you can apply a cold compress at home to calm the skin.
Topically, 100% aloe vera is a fantastic option for soothing your skin post-laser (bonus points if you store it in the fridge for extra cooling – this is just a good sunburn hack in general). Aloe is great, but avoid creams, moisturizers, oils, or anything scented that could further aggravate the skin immediately after the treatment.
Just like before your treatment, it is important to avoid any prolonged sun exposure to the treated area in between laser sessions. If you will be outside for any length of time it is best to cover up the area and always use a strong broad-spectrum SPF sunscreen.
It will also help to wear loose, cotton clothing for a day or two. Those booty-scrunch yoga pants may be cute but they are definitely not what you want immediately after lasering your entire leg.
It’s important to know that just like every other skincare secret, it does not happen overnight. For the most long-lasting effects, you may be required to return for 2 to 6 rounds of treatments (depending on the area you are lasering).
After the first treatment, most new patients experience a 10% to 25% reduction in hair growth. After completing all sessions, most patients see hair removal results that last for several months (and can even extend into years) before needing a maintenance treatment.
Smooth Like Butter
There is no debate that the demand for safe, effective procedures for long-term hair removal is on the rise. Just like you, we are constantly looking for ways to make our extensive beauty routine just a little easier to manage and long-term hair removal is a good place to start. However, if the commitment to the laser still has you hesitant, you may be interested in looking into at-home hair removal options.
Similar to laser hair removal but with much less heat, intense pulsed light (IPL) systems are an alternative to laser hair removal and can be performed in a doctor’s office but can also be done at home.
Personal hair removal devices like Lumi by RoseSkinCo can be used from the comfort of your own home and are virtually painless. If you are an “I’ll do it myself” kind of gal, these devices can remove the stress of repeat visits to the doctor’s office (and with a much smaller financial footprint on your life because we need our coins).
With such a variety of hair removal treatments offered, it’s important that you take the time to decide which method is best for you. Laser hair removal has become a widely available procedure at doctors' offices across the country and, with these tips, can be a relatively simple and stress-free process.
Laser hair removal is a safe and effective method of hair removal but IPL devices offer you the flexibility of at-home treatment and a completely pain-free hair removal experience. Whichever you choose, there is a beautifully smooth and hair-free future waiting for you!
Laser Hair Removal Overview | Mayo Clinic
Laser Hair Removal | National Library of Medicine