How does laser hair removal work?
When the hair follicle is destroyed, laser hair removal is permanent.
Laser hair removal uses light to target the pigment in individual hairs. The light travels down the shaft of the hair and into the hair follicle.
The heat from the laser light destroys the hair follicle, and a hair can no longer grow from it.
Hair follows a unique growth cycle that involves resting, shedding, and growing periods. Recently removed hair that is in a resting phase will not be visible to the technician or laser, so a person may need to wait until it regrows before removing it.
For most people, laser hair removal requires several treatments over the course of 2 to 3 months.
Is laser hair removal permanent?
Hair removal from a destroyed hair follicle is permanent. However, people who undergo hair removal can expect that some hair in the targeted area will grow back.
Over time, it is possible to treat the area again to reduce the number of hairs that regrow. In some cases, it may even be possible to eliminate all hair.
Whether or not hair grows back depends on numerous factors, including the type of hair that regrows and the skill of the person removing the hair.
Most people find that when hair regrows, it is lighter and less noticeable than it was before. This is because the laser may damage the hair follicle even when it fails to destroy it.
If a hair follicle is damaged but not destroyed, the hair will eventually regrow. It can be difficult to destroy every single hair follicle, so most people will see some hair regrowth.
When hair regrows, it is possible to treat it again, so people who want to remove all the hair may need several treatments.
In some cases, hair may be too light, too short, or resistant to treatment. In these cases, a person might choose to use other hair removal methods, such as plucking stray hairs.
How long does laser hair removal last?
Laser hair removal is permanent when the hair follicle is destroyed. When the hair follicle is only damaged, the hair will eventually regrow.
The amount of time it takes for the hair to regrow depends on the person’s unique hair growth cycle. Some people have hair that grows more quickly than others. Hair that is in a resting phase will grow back more slowly than hair that is in another phase.
Most people can expect some hair regrowth within a few months. Once this happens, they can opt for more removal treatments.
Does skin or hair color make a difference?
People with light complexions and dark hair may need fewer treatments than others.
Hair removal works best on people with light complexions who have dark hair. This is because the pigment contrast makes it easier for the laser to target the hair, travel into the follicle, and destroy the follicle.
People with dark skin or light hair may need more treatments than others and may find that more hair grows back.
To permanently remove hair, the technician must know how to target the hair and choose the right type of laser. Research published in 2013 found that lasers that produce longer wavelengths work best on dark skin.
Side effects and risks
During treatment, some people experience burning, stinging, or discomfort. For this reason, many technicians apply a numbing cream to the area they are treating. However, some people may have an allergic reaction or skin irritation in response to the numbing cream.
Minor side effects are common, and may include:
- changes in the color of the skin, particularly in people with dark skin, which are usually temporary
- skin redness
- blistering or crusting of the skin
Sometimes, irritation related to hair removal can cause scarring. Damaged skin can also become infected. Though rare, skin infections can spread and become life-threatening.
Providing a detailed medical history and discussing risks and benefits can help the provider determine the right treatment, reducing the risk of serious side effects.
Following hair removal, a person should avoid sun exposure. The sun can irritate the skin, which increases the risk of blisters and scars.
People who experience intense pain, a fever, crusting, blisters, or other signs of skin damage or infection should seek medical attention.
Cost of laser hair removal
According to 2017 statistics from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the average cost of a hair removal session is $293.
Most people require multiple sessions, so people should talk to their treatment provider about how many sessions they will need to work out the overall cost.
Because laser hair removal is almost always a cosmetic procedure, insurance is unlikely to cover it.
The total cost of laser hair removal depends on several factors, including who performs the treatment. Skilled providers such as dermatologists and plastic surgeons may charge more but are less likely to cause injury or side effects.
Other factors affecting the cost include:
- the number of treatments required
- how much hair regrows
- the number of hairs targeted
- the size of the area requiring treatment
Removing a small amount of hair from a region such as the upper lip will cost less than removing hair from the entire leg.
Laser hair removal can significantly reduce the amount of body hair a person has. In most people, some hair will regrow over time.
Even when hair does regrow, there will be less overall hair, producing a smoother appearance. To get a realistic understanding of what to expect from laser hair removal, discuss treatment goals with a doctor or hair removal specialist.
Some skin complexions and hair types produce better results than others. The only way to know for sure what to expect is to talk to a doctor, a dermatologist, or another skilled practitioner.
What you can expect
Laser hair removal usually requires two to six treatments. The interval between treatments will vary depending on the location. On areas where hair grows quickly, such as the upper lip, the treatment might be repeated in four to eight weeks. On areas of slow hair growth, such as the back, the treatment might be every 12 to 16 weeks.
For each treatment you’ll wear special goggles to protect your eyes from the laser beam. An assistant might shave the site again if necessary. The doctor might apply a topical anesthetic to your skin to reduce any discomfort during treatment.
During the procedure
The doctor will press a hand-held laser instrument to your skin. Depending on the type of laser, a cooling device on the tip of the instrument or a cool gel might be used to protect your skin and lessen the risk of side effects.
When the doctor activates the laser, the laser beam will pass through your skin to the hair follicles. The intense heat from the laser beam damages the hair follicles, which inhibits hair growth. You might feel discomfort, such as a warm pinprick, and you’ll likely feel a sensation of cold from the cooling device or gel.
Treating a small area, such as the upper lip, might take only a few minutes. Treating a larger area, such as the back, might take more than an hour.
After the procedure
You might notice redness and swelling for the first few hours after laser hair removal.
To reduce any discomfort, apply ice to the treated area. If you have a skin reaction immediately after laser hair removal, the doctor might apply a steroid cream to the affected area.
After laser hair removal and between scheduled treatments, avoid sunlight and don’t use a tanning bed for six weeks or as directed by your doctor. Use a broad-spectrum SPF30 sunscreen daily.
What about home lasers?
Lasers that can be used at home for hair removal are available. These devices might cause modest hair reduction. But there are no large studies comparing how effective these devices are compared with laser hair removal done at a doctor’s office.
Additionally, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers these home laser hair removal devices to be cosmetic, not medical, which means they don’t get the same level of scrutiny as other medical devices. Currently, there haven’t been large, long-term studies on how safe and effective the home machines are.