Laser hair removal is a medical procedure that uses a laser – an intense, pulsating beam of light — to remove unwanted hair. During laser hair removal, a laser beam passes through the skin to an individual hair follicle. The intense heat of the laser damages the hair follicle, which inhibits future hair growth.
Laser hair removal is most effective for people who have light skin and dark hair. Although laser hair removal effectively slows hair growth, it does not guarantee permanent hair removal. It typically takes several laser hair removal treatments to provide an extended hair-free period. Periodic maintenance treatments may be needed as well.
Common treatment locations include legs, armpits, upper lip, chin and bikini line. Hair color and skin type influence the success of laser hair removal. The laser beam targets the pigment (melanin) in the hair. Laser hair removal isn’t generally effective for white, blond or gray hair. Laser hair removal doesn’t guarantee permanent hair removal. Some hair may be resistant to the laser treatment or may grow again after treatment — although the new hair growth may be finer and lighter in color.
The most common side effects of laser hair removal include:
Skin irritation. Temporary irritation, crusting or scabbing is possible after laser hair removal.
Pigment changes. Laser hair removal may darken or lighten the affected skin, usually temporarily. Skin lightening primarily affects those who have darker skin, especially if an incorrect laser is used at an incorrect setting.
Rarely, laser hair removal may cause blistering, scarring or other changes in skin texture.
Tips to prepare for laser hair removal:
Stay out of the sun. A tan increases the risk of side effects, such as blistering and discoloration. If you have a tan — either from sun exposure or sunless tanning products — wait until the tan fades completely before undergoing laser hair removal.
Avoid plucking, waxing and electrolysis. These hair removal methods can disturb the hair follicle and interfere with laser hair removal. Shaving is recommended.
After the procedure:
You may notice redness and swelling for the first few hours after laser hair removal. A stinging sensation may linger for a day or two. The affected skin may also become slightly crusty.
While you are healing from laser hair removal, wash your skin gently with soap and water. Avoid picking at or vigorously scrubbing the affected skin. It is also important to avoid sun exposure — both natural sunlight and tanning beds — for at least one week after treatment. After this period, use sunscreen whenever you are in the sun.
For best results, you may need four to six treatments spaced a number of weeks apart. Additional periodic maintenance treatments — perhaps once every six to 12 months — may be needed as well.