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Laser hair removal is a professional procedure generally conducted by a dermatologist to help get rid of unwanted hair. The process works by concentrating beams of light to target hair follicles and destroy their hairs.

Laser treatments are most commonly used for your:

  • face
  • chest
  • armpits
  • back
  • bikini line
  • legs

A 2020 research review showed that advances in long-pulsed lasers have made it possible for this treatment to address not just dark hair on light skin as in the past, but also darker skin tones, too. Your physician will determine the best lasers to use based on both your hair and skin colors, as well as your hair texture.

Still, despite such advances in technology, laser hair removal remains a complex treatment that requires careful attention to aftercare. The way you care for your skin after the procedure can help reduce the risk of side effects and possible damage.

Read on to learn more about the do’s and don’ts regarding laser hair removal aftercare, and when you should contact your physician for help.

Your physician will give you specific instructions for taking care of your skin after laser treatments. In general, you should do the following to help promote skin healing and to prevent side effects.

Apply cool compresses

Wet a clean, soft washcloth with cool water and place it on the treated area for several minutes at a time. You can also use an ice pack wrapped in a paper towel. This method helps to reduce temporary swelling and pain after your laser hair removal treatment.

Apply prescription creams as directed

Your physician may prescribe a steroid cream to help minimize any pain and discomfort following your treatment. You may also take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or anti-inflammatory medications for pain relief.

Protect your skin from the sun

Since your skin will be sensitive after laser hair removal, your physician will recommend that you avoid getting direct sun exposure. You should avoid the sun for 1 month before the procedure to 1 month afterward. After this time, apply sunscreen to the area of treatment every day.

Can I shave after laser hair removal?

Your physician will instruct that you shave before your procedure to ensure a more targeted treatment. While you can also shave after laser hair removal, be sure to wait for several hours after skin redness or discoloration has subsided. Avoid shaving on any skin that’s:

  • swollen
  • red or discolored
  • painful

The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), says that laser hair removal is designed to replace shaving. However, the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA) says that your first procedure removes between 10 and 25 percent of your hairs.

According to Oregon Health & Science University, any repeat treatments are typically spread over several weeks or months. The AADA shares that most people need an average of six treatments in total, depending on the area of treatment and individual responses.

Knowing how to care for your skin after laser hair removal is crucial to reducing side effects, but you should also know what not to do after your procedure.

  • Space recurring treatments no sooner than 4 to 6 weeks apart. It may take multiple treatments spread out over time to achieve your desired results.
  • Don’t tan. This may increase your risk of hypopigmentation (light spots), as well as burns.
  • Don’t use tanning lotions. While seemingly harmless, these products can be irritating to skin that’s just undergone laser therapy. You may experience rashes, burns, and bumps.
  • Don’t apply lotions with fragrances or perfumes to the treatment area. These may cause skin redness or discoloration, and irritation.
  • Don’t apply deodorant to the underarms if laser hair treatment was targeted in this area. These products may also cause skin irritation.
  • Avoid body scrubs for at least a few days, as it can irritate your skin.

The ASAPS says that redness or discoloration, and swelling are common — but temporary — side effects of laser hair removal. You may also experience mild pain. Such side effects usually resolve within 1 to 3 days, according to the AADA.

An experienced, board certified professional will work to reduce side effects from laser hair removal by using the right types of lasers for your skin and hair color or type. They will also ask you about your medical history and any medications you take that might cause adverse reactions.

More serious side effects of this procedure may include:

According to the ASAPS, while laser hair removal is considered noninvasive and causes minimal discomfort, you should be on the lookout for any possible side effects. You should call your doctor if you notice:

  • increased swelling
  • burns or blisters
  • pain that doesn’t respond to your prescribed antiseptic cream
  • symptoms of pigmentation changes or scarring
  • symptoms of infection, including pus and red or discolored streaks

The organization above also shares that due to both general safety and effectiveness, laser hair removal remains one of the most popular nonsurgical procedures in the United States. As with any cosmetic procedure, though, it’s important to follow your physician’s aftercare instructions to help achieve the best results possible.

Taking care of your skin after laser hair removal may reduce the risk of side effects, but not all risks are avoidable. Be sure to discuss the benefits and risks for your hair and skin types with your physician, and to report any new or worsening reactions right away.