Is it really permanent?

In short, no. Laser hair removal works by heating the hair follicles to stop new hairs from growing. This puts the hair follicles in a state of dormancy for a long period of time — much longer than with shaving and waxing. When the hairs do grow back, they’ll be lighter, finer, and fewer in number.

Although the procedure is often touted as a form of “permanent” hair removal, laser treatment only reduces the number of unwanted hairs in a given area. It doesn’t get rid of unwanted hairs completely.

According to the Mayo Clinic, this hair removal option tends to work best in people with light skin tones and darker hair. Also, for best results, the American Association of Dermatology (AAD) recommends that a board-certified dermatologist ought to perform the procedure.

Laser therapy uses high-heat laser beams as a mild form of radiation. During the process, these laser beams heat up and damage your hair follicles.

Your hair follicles are located just below the skin. They’re responsible for producing new strands of hair. If the follicles are destroyed, then hair production is temporarily disabled.

By contrast, tweezing, shaving, and waxing all remove hair above the surface. These methods don’t target hair-producing follicles.

The AAD deems the following areas as appropriate for laser hair removal:

  • chest
  • back
  • shoulders
  • neck
  • bikini line
  • face (except for the eye area)

This form of hair removal works best with darker hair colors on light skin tones. This is because the lasers target hair melanin (color). Even if some hairs aren’t removed, the lightening of their color can reduce the appearance of hair on the skin.

Some of your hairs may also shed within a few days of your first treatment session.

Overall, laser hair removal is a relatively quick process. Smaller areas, such as the upper lip, can take just minutes. Larger areas of hair removal, like the back or chest, may take an hour or longer.

If your dermatologist applies a topical pain-relieving gel (anesthetic) first, you may expect to be at the office up to another full hour.

Despite the high success rate of laser hair removal, hair follicles eventually heal. This results in new hair production. To ensure the best results possible, you will need to undergo multiple treatment sessions.

Check out: How to treat and prevent ingrown pubic hair »

Follow-up treatments are necessary to get the most out of laser hair removal. The exact number of maintenance laser treatments varies by individual. According to the Mayo Clinic, most people need between four and six laser therapy sessions.

You also need to space these out by six weeks each — this means that the full treatment cycle can take up to nine months.

After each session, you’ll likely notice fewer hairs. Any hair that remains or regenerates will also be lighter in both texture and color. The AAD estimates that the number of hairs will reduce by 10 to 25 percent after your initial session. The rate of reduction thereafter will improve, but will also vary.

Additionally, for the best results, you’ll likely need occasional maintenance sessions. These help ensure that the hair follicles don’t regenerate. Depending on your individual needs, you may need a maintenance session once or twice a year after your full initial round of laser treatment.

The timeline for each session is the same as your initial laser hair removal treatment. Overall, the timing depends on the area of treatment. If you’re touching up just a few small areas during your maintenance sessions, then your appointment may be shorter.

Check out: How to identify, treat, and prevent infected ingrown hairs »

Although laser hair removal isn’t exactly permanent, it’s still one of the best options for slowing hair growth over an extended period of time. Other long-term hair removal options you can discuss with a dermatologist include electrolysis and needle epilators.

If you don’t want to go through with the expense of medical procedures that aren’t really permanent anyway, there are numerous at-home hair removal options.

Talk to your dermatologist about:

  • tweezer epilators
  • waxing or sugaring
  • threading
  • proper shaving techniques

Miniature versions of laser hair treatments are available on the market for home use, but their safety and efficacy aren’t clear. The U. S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate at-home laser hair treatments as medical devices, so they aren’t tested as such. It’s best to leave laser hair removal up to the expert.

Check out: Can I still get waxed while I’m pregnant? »