A lot of people turn to laser hair removal to reduce hair and its growth. It’s used for areas on the face, legs, underarms, and bikini zone.
The American Academy for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery says over a million people had the procedure done in 2016. But should pregnant women have laser hair removal? The short answer, according to many doctors, is no.
Here’s why it’s less likely to work while you’re pregnant and when investing the time and money for the treatment can work.
A doctor or laser technician aims a beam of light at the region you want to treat. The laser targets the dark pigment in each hair, sending heat down the hair shaft and into the follicle.
If the heat completely destroys the follicle, it won’t produce hair again. If the follicle is just damaged, then the hair may grow back, but it will probably be finer and lighter than before.
When you’re pregnant, your body is awash with hormones. Higher levels of estrogen and androgen can cause hair to grow in places where it never appeared before, especially in the third trimester.
You could suddenly notice hair on your belly, face, neck, breasts, and arms. The good news is that this hair growth is quite common, and it generally goes away on its own after the baby arrives.
Pregnancy hormones not only affect where hair suddenly sprouts and how much of it you have to deal with, they also change the growth cycle of your hair.
The hairs on your head and your body all have an active growth phase called anagen. When the hair is fully grown, it enters a resting state called telogen, after which it falls out.
Pregnancy hormones delay the “falling out” phase, which might be why you notice thicker, fuller hair. Your body simply isn’t letting go of the usual amount of hair.
About three to six months after the baby arrives and your hormones normalize, the extra hair will fall out. This sudden loss of hair is called telogen effluvium.
The estrogen-induced hair growth, combined with the increasing difficulty of reaching some parts of your body as your belly grows, may have you wondering whether you should schedule an appointment for laser hair removal as an alternative to shaving, waxing, or using depilatory creams.
The International Journal of Women’s Dermatology published a review in 2017 on the safety of cosmetic procedures for pregnant women.
The reviewers said that while lasers have been safely used to treat medical conditions like kidney stones and genital warts in pregnant women, there’s no safety data available to support using lasers for cosmetic procedures like laser hair removal.
The lack of research on this subject probably won’t change soon, because scientists don’t want to risk harming mothers and babies by intentionally exposing them to potentially harmful products and procedures.
Although laser hair removal is generally considered a safe procedure, doctors and dermatologists usually advise women to avoid the procedure because no studies have been done to prove that it’s safe for mothers and babies. In the absence of research, doctors err on the side of caution.
Dr. Kelly Jago, an OB-GYN in St. Augustine, Florida, advises patients to take a cautious approach.
“My best advice would be that if one could hold off on this elective procedure until after the pregnancy, I would recommend doing so,” she says.
One of the more common changes that can happen during pregnancy is darkening of your skin — a condition called hyperpigmentation.
According to doctors at Mayo Clinic, laser hair removal is most effective when there’s a contrast between the color of your skin and the color of your hair. If hyperpigmentation has made the skin on your target zone closer to the color of your hair, treatment might be less effective.
In addition, pregnancy disrupts your normal hair growth cycle. For laser hair removal to be effective, you could need as many as six treatments. Ideally, these treatments would take place during the active growth phase of the cycle. But because pregnancy hormones can change the duration of some phases, you could end up having the procedure done in the wrong phase.
Then there’s the question of skin sensitivity. Pregnancy increases the blood supply throughout your body. It also stretches out the skin on your abdomen and breasts. Having laser hair removal treatments while your skin is in this tender state may be uncomfortable.
There’s no evidence that laser hair removal affects your chances of becoming pregnant. If you’re trying to get pregnant, check with your doctor before beginning laser hair removal treatments.
For most people, successful reduction of hair growth takes several treatments spaced out over a period of up to nine months. It’s possible you could undergo a treatment before you realize you are pregnant, exposing you to the risks associated with the procedure, including:
- skin irritation
- changes to your skin’s color
- excessive hair regrowth, in rare cases
Temporary methods like shaving, waxing, threading, and tweezing are generally considered safe during pregnancy. As your body’s shape and size change, you may need help reaching some areas to remove unwanted hair.
If you decide to get help from an aesthetician or a dermatologist, be sure that the facility is clean and the technician licensed to perform the service you want.
While depilatory creams have historically been considered safe for use during pregnancy, there are no studies to prove that chemicals like barium sulfide powder and thioglycolic acid are absolutely harmless to mothers and babies.
You should also be aware that the Food and Drug Administration has received reports of painful skin reactions associated with these creams and lotions. Since there’s little research on possible effects, this might be a good topic to discuss with a doctor before you begin.
One important note
Doctors recommend not to shave your pubic area immediately before going to the hospital to deliver your baby, especially if you’re planning a cesarean delivery. Shaving can cause tiny nicks and scrapes that could lead to infection in or around the wound site.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says you should think of postpartum care as a long-term process, rather than just one appointment. During your first few months after delivery, talk with your obstetrician regularly to discuss all the ways your body is changing.
Your doctor is the best person to help you decide when your hormones have gotten back to normal and your skin is ready to receive laser treatments. These conversations will be especially important if you have wounds or incisions from an episiotomy or a cesarean delivery.
There’s no evidence to suggest that a properly trained and outfitted laser technician is in any danger from operating a laser machine while being pregnant. If you have concerns, you can talk to your doctor about the risks.
Pregnancy can cause lots of changes to your body, including the sudden appearance of hair in spots it hasn’t been. Most of these changes will be resolved in the months following delivery.
If you want to reduce the amount of hair on your face, arms, belly, legs, or bikini area, it’s probably safest to shave, thread, pluck, or wax, depending on the size of the area you’re concerned about.
After your delivery, talk to your doctor about how soon to resume laser hair removal treatments on any areas where unwanted hair hasn’t gone away.