Laser hair removal has become one of the most popular cosmetic procedures performed in the United States. It is a popular alternative to shaving and waxing, especially for those looking to save time.
This minimally invasive procedure also offers additional benefits such as precision in targeting specific hair, avoidance of awkward in-between growth stages and elimination of ingrown hairs.
First steps and preparation
It is important to choose a doctor who is board-certified in a specialty such as plastic surgery. Before laser hair removal, your doctor will likely review your medical history and discuss risks, benefits and expectations to determine if it is an appropriate treatment option for you.
In preparation for your first laser hair removal session, it is important to avoid waxing or plucking of hairs for four to six weeks before treatment. These activities temporarily remove hair follicles and roots, which are the targets during laser treatment. Shaving is acceptable, as it cuts the hairs and leaves hair follicles intact.
Within 24 hours before treatment, shaving is recommended so the laser can more easily locate follicles. Hair stubble can be burned during the laser process and cause increased discomfort.
What to expect during the procedure
Just before the laser procedure, you may be given the option to receive topical anesthetic to help reduce any discomfort during the treatment. This is applied 20-30 minutes before the laser procedure and is recommended for more sensitive areas such as the bikini line and underarm.
You will be typically given eye protection, and the laser equipment settings will be adjusted according to skin location, thickness and color. Lastly, a cold gel may be applied or a special cooling device will be used to protect the outer skin and minimize side effects.
During the laser process, pulses of light will be given in the treatment area and slight discomfort may be felt. This has been described as a warm pinprick or light rubber band snapping against the skin.
The first treatment usually causes the most sensation compared to subsequent treatments, and the laser process varies from a few minutes to an hour depending on the treatment area. Once the procedure is complete, you may be given lotion, anti-inflammatory cream or ice packs to ease any discomfort.
After the procedure and recovery process
It is not uncommon to notice some redness and warmth to the skin area after a few hours. It has been described as feeling like a mild sunburn, which can be relieved with cold compresses and moisturizers. Makeup can be worn the next day if your face was treated.
Over the next month, sunscreen is recommended for sun-exposed areas and sunlight should be avoided as much as possible.
Hair follicles hit by the laser during the treatment can take days to weeks to fully shed. Hairs do not fall out immediately and the shedding process may sometimes look like continued hair growth. Results vary significantly between people, which may be due to a variety of factors such as hair thickness, density or location.
Although laser hair removal effectively delays hair growth for months to years, it usually does not result in permanent hair removal. However, compared to shaving and waxing, it offers a more permanent solution. Multiple sessions, usually 4-10 and spaced 4-6 weeks apart, are needed to target the various stages in the hair growth cycle. Following these sessions, a few maintenance sessions a year may also be needed for longer-term results.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.