As summer rolls in, we start looking forward to poolside lounging and fun in the sun — but that also means all the shaving and waxing we avoided by wearing jeans throughout the cold months needs to happen, stat. With it, though, comes razor burns and the pain of waxing every few weeks, making us wish our hair was just… gone.
Turns out, there is a way to remove hair permanently — and Her Campus has found out everything you need to know about it so you can decide if it’s right for you.
How does laser hair removal work?
Laser hair removal combines light wavelengths and pulse time to target melanin (dark matter) in the follicle (where hair grows) to permanently stop or reduce growth in a specific area. This combination of light and pulse, which varies based on your skin and hair type, affects the dark matter while causing as little effect to the surrounding tissue as possible. There are two types of melanin: eumelanin, or black and brown hair, and pheomelanin, or blonde and red hair.
As a result, according to Clinical Associate Professor of Dermatology at NYU Elizabeth Hale, M.D., “different lasers are available for different skin types, and the success of the procedure depends on the right one being used for your skin.”
Hannah Huckaby, director of operations at med spa and laser clinic Look Young Atlanta, says that most clients come in for greater reasons than just cosmetic ones.
“The majority of people that decide on laser hair removal do it to prevent skin irritations [from shaving and waxing] and ingrown hairs,” Huckaby explains. “A smaller percentage do it just to put an end to the hassle of shaving or waxing.”
With 90 percent of treatment successful, it’s an attractive option — and equally as popular among men and women, Huckaby says.
What’s the procedure like?
HC University of Michigan blogger Chloe, who has gotten laser hair removal on her underarms and is currently in consultation for her bikini area, says that for her, the full treatment took place over a course of six sessions.
During each session, the clinician will disinfect and apply ultrasound gel to the treatment area in order to protect the skin before applying the appropriate laser settings for the patient’s skin type. Both the patient and the clinician wear tinted safety goggles during the procedure, which Chloe says only takes about a minute per underarm. The clinician will then move the laser over the treatment area, stopping for a few seconds per spot until the entire area has been treated.
Does it hurt?
FDA policy states that laser treatments can’t claim to be painless — and for good reason. Though the pain isn’t unbearable, Chloe says that “it feels like being snapped by a rubber band at an extremely high speed, or a billion little pin pricks.”
“I’m not going to lie, I have to clench my fists and grind my teeth, but I think the pain is worth the lasting results,” she says.
HC Bucknell editor Elizabeth recommends using numbing cream if you have a low pain threshold. Bare Ease & Cream makes numbing creams specifically for waxing purposes, but any numbing cream that contains lidocaine, which can be used to relieve itching, burning, and pain caused by inflammation, should be effective.
What are the negative effects of laser hair removal?
Dana Davis, a laser technician at Skin Matters Med Spa in Atlanta, says there may be chances of burning and blistering in highly pigmented skin, because the laser is designed to target pigmented hair follicles. Though longer-wavelength lasers are now available to treat those with darker skin, more treatments may be required.
Burning, blistering and scarring may also occur if there is extensive sun exposure or with the use of sunless tanning products, as discoloration from a tan may change the effects of the laser, Davis explains.
If burning or blistering does occur, Hale says that such side effects may indicate that the wrong laser was used during the procedure and anybody experiencing these side effects should report them to a medical provider immediately.
Immediately after the procedure, however, patients may experience itchy, red bumps known as perifollicular edema. Hale says that this is not uncommon and actually indicates the procedure has worked effectively. To calm the itch, Hale says she recommends a mild cortisone cream.
Is there anybody who shouldn’t get laser hair removal?
Those with light-colored hair — red, blonde or grey — may see less success with laser hair removal, as the follicles are more difficult or sometimes impossible to detect. Davis says that technology allows for those with lighter hair and skin types to be successfully treated, but collegiettes should double check with the facility beforehand to make sure lasers for varying skin and hair types are available.
If you’ve gotten a head start on your summer tan at the pool and have had extensive sun exposure, laser hair removal may not be for you — the sun causes a change in melanin under your skin, which may require your laser technician to use a stronger treatment that could result in burning.
Tattoos, especially newer ones, may also be reason not to get laser hair removal, as the laser, which is attracted to dark pigments, may change the color of your tattoo or cause blistering and scarring. Speak with your laser technician if you’ve been inked — he or she may be able to work around it.