How It Works
Laser hair removal is one of the most common cosmetic treatments in the United States. The procedure beams highly concentrated light into hair follicles. The light energy is converted to heat, which damages the tube-shaped sacs within the skin (hair follicles) that produce hairs. This damage inhibits or delays future hair growth.
What you can expect
Laser hair removal usually requires a series of 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 sun exposure — both natural sunlight and tanning beds — for six weeks or as directed by your doctor. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen daily.
Hairs do not fall out immediately, but you will shed them over a period of days to weeks. This may look like continued hair growth. The repeated treatments are usually necessary because hair growth and loss naturally occur in a cycle, and laser treatment works best with hair follicles in the new-growth stage.
Results vary significantly and are difficult to predict. Most people experience hair removal that lasts several months, and it might last for years, but laser hair removal doesn’t guarantee permanent hair removal. When hair regrows, it’s usually finer and lighter in color.
You might need maintenance laser treatments for long-term hair reduction.
Risks of side effects vary with skin type, hair color, treatment plan and adherence to pre-treatment and post-treatment care. The most common side effects of laser hair removal include:
- Skin irritation. Temporary discomfort, redness and swelling are possible after laser hair removal. Any signs and symptoms typically disappear within several hours.
- Pigment changes. Laser hair removal might darken or lighten the affected skin, usually temporarily. Skin lightening primarily affects those who don’t avoid sun exposure before or after treatment and those who have darker skin.
Rarely, laser hair removal can cause blistering, crusting, scarring or other changes in skin texture. Other rare side effects include graying of treated hair or excessive hair growth around treated areas, particularly on darker skin.
Laser hair removal isn’t recommended for eyelids, eyebrows or surrounding areas, due to the possibility of severe eye injury.