- The procedure uses concentrated light technology to prevent the growth of body hair.
- It was one of the top five nonsurgical procedures performed in the United States in 2016, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.
- It can be used on any area of the body including the face.
- It’s been tested since the 1960s and commercially available since the 1990s.
- The first laser for hair removal was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1995.
- If registered, equipment used in laser hair removal is vigorously regulated by the FDA for safety.
- On average, three to seven sessions are needed for optimal results.
- In most cases, patients experience minimal discomfort during and after the treatment.
- There’s usually little to no post-treatment downtime required.
- The average cost per treatment is $306.
Laser hair removal is a noninvasive way to reduce or remove unwanted body hair. With more than one million procedures performed in 2016, laser hair removal is one of the most popular minimally invasive cosmetic treatments in the United States. It can be a good option for those with excess body hair who are looking for a way to effectively reduce or remove hair from both large and small areas of the body.
Before the procedure, a medical specialist (a physician, physician assistant, or registered nurse) cleans the treatment area. If the area is particularly sensitive, numbing gel can be applied. During the procedure, everyone in the room needs to wear special protective eyewear to prevent eye damage from the laser.
Once the numbing gel kicks in, the medical specialist focuses a beam of high-energy light at the desired area. The bigger the area you would like treated, the longer the procedure takes. Small areas can take as little as a couple of minutes while larger areas such as the chest can take an hour or more.
Some patients report a sensation similar to a rubber band snapping or a sunburn-like sting. As the hair vaporizes from the energy of the laser, there can be a sulfurous smell from the smoke puffs.
Your doctor should provide thorough preparation instructions before your appointment. Following these instructions improves the effectiveness of the procedure and reduces the risk of side effects. Here are some common recommendations:
- Stay out of the sun for a few days before the procedure. Laser hair removal shouldn’t be performed on tanned skin.
- Avoid irritating the skin.
- Stay away from waxing and plucking.
- Try not to take anti-inflammatory drugs that may increase bleeding, such as aspirin.
- If you have an active infection, such as a cold sore or bacterial skin infection, the procedure should not be performed.
Additionally, if you have dark skin you might be recommended to apply a skin-bleaching compound to the treatment area.
Target areas include:
- bikini area
- upper lip
How it works
Laser hair removal works by using concentrated light to affect hair follicles, which are small cavities in the skin from which hair grows. The hair follicle absorbs the laser, which is attracted to the hair’s melanin pigment, and the hair vaporizes instantly.
The pigment in the hair attracts the laser, so darker hair absorbs the laser more effectively, which is why people with dark hair and light skin are ideal candidates for laser hair removal.
Patients with dark skin typically need to be treated with a special type of laser that detects the hair against their skin.
Those with light hair make less ideal candidates, and they are also less likely to experience drastic results as the laser doesn’t focus well on nonpigmented hair. Laser hair removal is not effective on blonde, gray, or white hairs.
Serious complications related to laser hair removal are rare. The most common side effects include:
- discomfort and skin irritation
They typically subside within a few days after the treatment. If symptoms persist, you should contact your medical specialist.
Less common side effects include:
- permanent changes in skin color
Carefully choosing a skilled medical professional can greatly reduce these risks. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends only having laser hair removal performed by a board-certified dermatologist to minimize any risk of complications.
What to expect
The recovery time after the procedure is minimal and most patients can return to life as normal directly after. Just as wearing sunscreen before the procedure is important, so is continuing to wear it after the procedure. This will help prevent further irritation.
You can expect to see a reduction in the number of hairs in the treated area immediately after the procedure. Two to eight weeks after laser hair removal, you may begin to notice an increase in hair growth in the treated area. The reason for this is that not all hair follicles respond equally to the laser. Most patients see a 10 to 25 percent reduction in hair after the first treatment. It typically takes between three and eight sessions for permanent hair loss. The evaluation with your specialist before the procedure will give you a better idea of how many treatment sessions you may need. Also, you will likely need a touch-up session yearly to maintain effect.
Cost varies based on multiple factors including:
- the specialist’s experience
- geographic location
- size of the treatment area
- number of sessions
As of 2016, laser hair removal cost $306 per session on average, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS). Most offices offer payment plans.
As an elective procedure, laser hair removal is not covered by medical insurance.