Laser Hair Removal: Benefits, Risks And Side Effects (2024)

If you’re looking for a more permanent solution to getting rid of unwanted body hair, you may want to consider laser hair removal. A safe and effective alternative to other hair removal methods like shaving and waxing, laser hair removal promises a significant reduction of unwanted hair, especially when done by a trained professional using the correct type of laser for your skin type. Once treatments are complete, other hair removal methods will likely be unnecessary, and maintenance may be minimal.

That being said, laser hair removal can come with its own risks and side effects. These can range from minimal redness and swelling to more rare complications, like skin darkening or lightening, herpes simplex, blistering and scarring. It’s important to consider all of the pros and cons before making your first appointment. Read on to find out exactly what laser hair removal entails.

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What Is Laser Hair Removal?

Laser hair removal is a safe, effective and non-invasive method of removing body hair. “Laser hair removal uses light energy at specific wavelengths to hit pigmented hair follicles and cause termination of those cells,” explains Dr. Tracy Evans, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and medical director of Pacific Skin and Cosmetic Dermatology in San Francisco. “This results in hair reduction in the specific area that has been treated.”

Basically, laser hair removal damages the hair follicle, which prevents future hair growth, says Jaimie DeRosa, M.D.,a board-certified plastic surgeon and founder and lead plastic surgeon of DeRosa Center Plastic Surgery & Med Spa in Boston and Palm Beach, Florida. Laser hair removal can be done on most parts of the body and typically requires several treatments over a period of time in order to result in significant hair reduction.

Why Do People Get Laser Hair Removal?

People often get laser hair removal to have the growth of unwanted hairs permanently reduced in a more convenient and time-saving way. “Lasers can be used by dermatologists to safely remove unwanted facial and body hair without the daily need for shaving, tweezing, threading, waxing, etc.,” says Kunal Malik, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Spring Street Dermatology in New York.

According to Dr. Malik, laser hair removal can significantly reduce hair in approximately six sessions. It eliminates the need for regular body hair removal and has long-lasting results.

Benefits of Laser Hair Removal

Laser hair removal can be costly, with an average price of $389 total, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. However, it does have many benefits that can make the price worth it for a lot of people. These include the below, according to both Dr. Malik and Dr. Evans.

  • It is a more long-term solution to reducing body hair. Laser hair removal isn’t considered permanent, but it still has lasting effects. It reduces the number of unwanted hairs in the targeted area and when the hair does grow back, there’s less of it and it’s finer and lighter.
  • It requires less upkeep than other options. If you are shaving to get rid of body hair, you have to do so every few days, and options like waxing and threading have effects that last about four weeks. In comparison, laser hair removal typically requires four to six sessions and then occasional maintenance in the future.
  • It can help with other skin issues as well. “Laser hair removal also reduces ingrown hairs and can prevent inflamed bumps and itching,” says Dr. Malik. And since it uses light to get rid of hair, you don’t run the risk of dealing with the nicks, cuts and razor burn that go along with shaving.
  • No downtime is required. While laser hair removal treatments may leave skin a little red and swollen, you can pretty much go back to your daily routine immediately afterward. There’s no downtime to deal with since it’s non-invasive. The only thing you can’t do is immediately go out in the sun or use tanning beds or sun lamps.
  • It may save money over time. Although the cost of laser hair removal is initially more than, say, purchasing a razor and shaving cream, it pays off over time. Since laser hair removal greatly reduces unwanted hair, regular maintenance that goes along with shaving and waxing isn’t required, so once you pay the initial fee, you shouldn’t have to pay much more.
  • It can reduce the chance of certain skin diseases. According to Dr. Evans, one of the benefits of laser hair removal is that it can reduce your chance of diseases such as folliculitis, a skin condition that occurs when the hair follicles become inflamed. Research from 2019 that looked at more unconventional uses of hair removal found this to be the case as well[1]Aleem S, Majid I. Unconventional Uses of Laser Hair Removal: A Review. Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery. 2019;12(1):8-16. .

“It is a really good treatment for those who suffer from folliculitis barbae, which is an itchy and sometimes tender swelling and infection around hair follicles that are prone to shaving, such as the beard line in men,” says Dr. DeRosa.

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Risks and Side Effects of Laser Hair Removal

While there are plenty of benefits to laser hair removal, it still comes with its fair share of risks and side effects. In order to avoid potentially uncomfortable side effects, Dr. Malik recommends doing your research before selecting a place to get the treatment done. “It is vital to see someone with an in-depth knowledge of the skin and which lasers are okay for specific skin types, as not all lasers are appropriate for laser hair removal,” he says.

Some of the most common side effects are mild discomfort in the treatment area afterward. According to Dr. Malik, this can include swelling, redness and blistering. “These are mild side effects and usually resolve in one to three days,” he says.

There are some more serious possible side effects, but Dr. Malik says these are rare in the hands of an experienced board-certified dermatologist. “These include pigment changes (skin darkening or lightening), cold sore outbreaks, blistering, scarring or infections,” he continues.

Less significant or no hair reduction is possible if the hair is too white or blonde and the laser cannot detect the hair. “The hairs need to be dark against a light background for the laser to preferentially treat the pigmented hairs,” explains Dr. Evans. Those being treated for hormonal imbalances may also have low success with instances of hair regrowth, requiring more treatment or maintenance sessions than others.

More serious side effects are more likely to happen to those with darker skin tones. “These patients need to be careful and only get treatment from a provider who has a lot of experience, preferably a dermatologist or plastic surgeon’s office,” says Dr. Evans. “People with darker skin tones are more at risk for things like burns and permanent damage from laser hair removal devices.”

A rare risk is that laser hair removal can end up having the opposite effect and cause increased hair growth. “This is most common during facial hair laser treatments in women with Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and South Asian heritage,” notes Dr. DeRosa.

It’s also worth noting that some people might not notice enough hair reduction after their first session. “It is important to realize it takes multiple treatments, ranging from five to 10,” says Dr. Evans.

How to Prepare for Laser Hair Removal

Laser hair removal doesn’t require a lot of preparation, but there are some things you should do before your treatment.

  • Choose a reputable place or doctor to perform the treatments. When looking for someone reputable, Dr. DeRosa recommends asking a lot of questions, such as what device is going to be used, if they’ll do a test spot (which is especially important for those with darker skin types), what the pre/post-treatment restrictions are and the level of training that is required for technicians performing the treatment. “The more you know ahead of time, the more likely you’ll have a positive, complication-free experience,” she says.
  • Avoid the sun before getting laser hair removal done. Dr. Malik, Dr. DeRosa and Dr. Evans stress the importance of avoiding the sun before getting laser hair removal done. “Any laser can burn you, so it is very important that you are not exposed to the sun for two weeks before or two weeks after any laser treatment, especially laser hair removal,” explains Dr. Evans. If you spend a lot of time outside in the summer, you may want to consider laser hair removal during another season.
  • Avoid the use of sunless tanners. Dr. Malik also suggests using SPF 30+ daily leading up to your appointment. Aside from the potential for burns, tanning (in the sun or with self-tanner) can also make the treatment less effective. “You want to keep the cells that can cause darkening of the skin (melanocytes) quiet and less likely to be stimulated by the laser, which could cause hyperpigmentation,” says Dr. DeRosa.
  • Shave the area 24 hours before treatment. Hair doesn’t need to be present for the laser to do its job, but all contributing experts agree shaving right before is a good idea. Dr. DeRosa explains that when the hairs are short, there’s a better chance of the laser beam hitting the hair follicle instead of just the hairs themselves.
  • Avoid doing your own hair removal maintenance in between treatments. Even if you notice hairs growing back, resist the urge to get rid of them. “I especially emphasize to not tweeze or wax the area prior to or in between appointments,” adds Dr. Malik. “This is because the laser targets the pigment in the hair follicle, which needs to be present for an effective treatment.”

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Laser Hair Removal Treatments: What to Expect

When you arrive at your treatment appointment, the area you’re targeting will be cleaned, and you’ll have the option to have numbing gel applied up to 30 minutes before the treatment, says Dr. Malik.

Once the area is ready, Dr. Malik says the skin is held taut as it is treated by the laser. “Many patients express the feeling as warm pinpricks or the snapping of a rubber band,” he says. However, Dr. Evans notes that some lasers today can be nearly pain-free. “Lasers can be painless if they are the right ones for your skin,” she says. “It is important that you choose the right practice that does a proper consultation and evaluation of your skin type and can give you the best laser for your particular skin type.”

The length of each appointment will vary depending on the size of the area being treated. “For example, the upper lip will take only a few minutes, whereas the entire back can take up to one hour,” says Dr. Malik.

You should expect several follow-up treatments. “We tell patients that it should take between five to 10 treatments done about five weeks apart, which is the amount of time hair needs to cycle through the hair growth cycle,” Dr. Evans says. Additionally, Dr. Malik notes that even after your treatments, you may find that you need an annual treatment as a touch-up.

Although it can be costly initially, laser hair removal can be a great option for those who want to significantly reduce unwanted body hair and cut down on regular maintenance.

Laser Hair Removal: Benefits, Risks And Side Effects (2024)
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