Thinking About Laser Hair Removal? Know the Facts

10 things you need to know before you sign up

Laser hair removal.
gilaxia / Getty Images

Before you sign up for very costly laser hair removal treatments, read up on the facts to determine if it will work for you.

Who's a Good Candidate?

Lasers and pulsed lights work best on people with dark hair and light skin. There are new devices created to work on light hair and dark-skinned people, but with mixed success.

As for dark or tanned skin, lasers can cause discoloration (read why below) unless you use a machine created for dark skin.

But lasers have come a long way and improvements are constantly being made. When you book your appointment, describe your skin tone and hair color and ask if the salon's lasers will work on you.

How it Works

Lasers use pulsed light to target, break down and destroy the melanin (dark pigment) in hair. This is why it works only on dark hair. Lasers will also target the melanin in dark skin, which can cause discoloration. Hair grows in three phases: growing, resting, and shedding. Lasers and pulsed lights target hair in the growth phase.

When Does Hair Fall Out?

Hair falls out within 10-14 days. Use a mild sugar scrub in the shower on the tenth day to help exfoliate the skin and remove hair.

What Areas Can Be Treated?

Lasers and pulsed light target several follicles at once, so you can treat large areas of skin. While it would take years to perform electrolysis on the back or legs, a typical laser hair removal session on both legs usually takes under two hours.

Lasers are great for treating the back, shoulders, arms, and chest.

For upper lip and chin, lasers work but only on dark hair. If you want to ensure the blonde hairs are zapped, your better bet is electrolysis for permanent hair removal in these areas.

How Long Do Treatments Take?

It takes 4-6 laser hair removal sessions spaced four weeks apart to see 70-80 percent reduction in hair growth.

For best results, get maintenance treatments done once a year for at least a couple years.

Are Results Guaranteed?

No. Laser hair removal works better on some people than others. No one knows for sure what the regrowth rates are. Some people notice regrowth after several months or years, while others find they never have to shave again. The average experience is 70-80 percent reduction in hair growth if you do a full 4-6 course treatment.

How to Prepare

Once it's determined what type of laser or pulsed light machine will be used, you'll likely be told to either shave the day of your treatment or three days before. Check with your aesthetician before you show up.

What's the Pain Factor?

The pulsed light in laser hair removal feels like a rubber band popping against your skin, although some machines perform differently. Not every zap will hurt and I've found some areas (lower legs) hurt more than others (thighs).

We strongly advise taking a couple ibuprofen an hour before your session. Others recommend numbing skin 20 minutes before your session with a spray or cream that contains four percent lidocaine. InStyle magazine recommends Gigi's Anesthetic Numbing Spray.

Pick the Right Expert

Many salons advertise cheap and discounted procedures, but the best places don't have to resort to discounts.

Do your homework before signing up for services. Book only with a dermatologist or licensed technician.

What It'll Cost You

Laser hair removal is not cheap. Depending on what body part you treat, it can run from $200 to $2,000 per session, not including tax and tip.