So, you have your next laser hair removal appointment booked. You’re excited and ready for your skin to be hairless and smooth just in time for summer beach days. But you realize your skin is damaged: Maybe you have a sunburn, fell off your bike, or burned your hand on your flat iron (been there).
Even if the damage to your skin seems minor, you’re probably wondering: is it safe to get any type of laser hair removal? Plus, are there side effects of laser hair removal treatments? What’s the stance in the world of dermatology on these laser skin care procedures?
TL;DR: the short answer is that if you have a scar or injury that is not healed, do not bother with a laser hair removal treatment. If there is a wound or any visible opening in the skin, laser may further damage the skin so avoid it at all cost. No really — run.
Read on to learn whether you should use laser hair removal on your scars or if there’s another way to get the silky smooth skin of your dreams.
What Types of Skin Damage Should Avoid Laser Treatments?
What’s your damage?
You don’t need a huge wound or serious scarring to postpone your laser appointment. Even Harry Potter’s lightning bolt would be enough for a dermatologist to say, “Huh, maybe we’ll skip the forehead today.”
Obvi, hair removal is totally safe — if your skin is healthy and happy. If you’ve got skin damage? That’s another story.
Trying to remove hair from a treatment area with laser hair removal, waxing, or even just shaving will likely be very uncomfortable if you’ve got skin damage. Plus, removing unwanted hair from damaged skin can further irritate the skin, especially if you have a sensitive skin type. Ultimately this will increase the damage and prolong the healing process.
If you have any of the following, focus on letting the treated area heal before you try a hair removal procedure:
- Scrapes and cuts
- Scar tissue
- Severe acne scars
- Chemical irritations
- Sunburns or other sun exposure-related issues
- Allergic reactions
- Skin conditions
What Is the Healing Process Like for Skin Damage?
Maybe patience is a virtue we don’t possess — but we want our hair removal done ASAP. How long does it take for our skin to heal (AKA, how long will we have to wait before we can zap away unwanted hair everywhere)?
With any wound, the healing process has four steps. When you get a cut, this is what happens step by step:
This is a medical term that essentially just means the stopping of the flow of blood. When your skin is punctured, you usually start to bleed almost immediately. After bleeding for a while, our bodies try to protect us and prevent further blood loss through hemostasis.
The blood cells start to collect and clot. As these blood clots dry, they turn into scabs.
After scabbing, the injury usually becomes inflamed and swells. Our blood vessels are now able to open up a bit. This allows oxygen to flow to the wound, which is essential for helping expedite the healing process.
This step of the process is also when white blood cells come into the picture. Macrophages (a fancy, scientific term for white blood cells) swarm the damaged area and protect the wound. These cells protect the skin from bacteria, germs, and any possible infection.
At this part of the process, you may notice some white clear fluid around the cut or scrape, as well as crusting and some discoloration or hyperpigmentation. This is a (gross) normal part of the healing process and a signal that the wound is draining.
Growth and Rebuilding
During the downtime, more blood cells flow to the wound to help build new skin tissue. The blood cells, along with collagen and other tissues, work together to repair and heal the wound.
As time goes on, the new tissue gets stronger and stronger. Eventually, it will be as strong as it was before the injury. If your injury was minor, the damage may go away completely.
If you had a more severe injury like a deep cut or serious burn (ouch, we still feel it), you may be left with a scar in the long term. But even that, over time, can be healed to be less noticeable.
But I Really Really Want To Remove My Hair… What Do I Do?
We are not going to recommend you try any hair removal treatments on damaged skin. Sorry, not sorry.
It can further your skin damage, it can hurt, and all-around will likely not be a pleasant experience. But we want to be realistic and meet you where you are at. So, if you MUST try hair removal while also dealing with healing a scar or damaged area of skin, we recommend IPL.
Be Gentle Around Damaged Areas
IPL — also known as intense pulsed light — uses broad-spectrum light pulses to stunt hair growth at the root. It is gentler than laser hair removal but still provides a permanent hair removal experience.
We love IPL because it is an easy treatment to DIY at home (no awkward butterflying at the waxing parlor for us, thanks). It is an affordable, safe, painless, and all-around great option for hair removal. If you’re healing a wound, do not use an IPL device directly on the damaged area, obvi. But you can use the device on the surrounding areas as you usually would.
If you have a concern about your skin damage and are worried about using an IPL device on your body, it is always a good idea to reach out to a professional. We always recommend you consult with your dermatologist or doctor to make sure you are doing the right thing for your skin.
Thankfully, IPL lets us have hairless, healthy skin while we wait for our skin damage to heal.
Accept That Your Skin Is Beautiful as Is
So you have some hair on your underarms. We all do! Letting your wounds and scars heal first is so much more important than getting rid of some fuzz. If you have to leave your hair patches as is (for the time being), remind yourself that you are beautiful the way you are.
ICYMI: You do not need to shave off any of your body hair to feel beautiful!
Why Is IPL a Great Option in the Long Term?
If you get a scar, you will probably have to take a loooooong break from hair removal. Ugh.
Don’t worry! If you’re using IPL consistently, you won’t miss laser hair removal, waxing, or shaving at all. If you use an at home IPL device frequently, your hair will be virtually nonexistent — and you’ll realize how much time you were wasting on those annoying other hair removal options that we no longer need to discuss.
IPL laser light leads to permanent reduction of hair growth. Many of our customers at RoseSkinCo say they see complete results (AKA, no more hair growth) from IPL after just 12 uses.
So, if you’re using IPL often and you get an injury your hair may not even grow back. Problem solved? We think so!
Is IPL Right for Me?
IPL is right for just about everyone. We say just about everyone because IPL uses pigmentation to target the hair follicle. If there is not enough contrast between the hair follicle and the skin, the light may not be able to target the hair follicle well.
IPL works best on people with dark, coarse hair. Check out our guide on skin tone and hair color to see if IPL’s right for you (spoiler alert: it probably is).
Stay Safe and Stop Shaving!
The skin you’re in is at its best when it’s healthy. So, let those scars heal and come back to hair removal when your skin is no longer damaged. In the meantime, toss those razors and cancel those laser appointments.
When you’re ready to remove some hair again, IPL is always here for you!
Laser hair removal | Mayo Clinic
How Wounds Heal | Johns Hopkins Medicine