Chances are, this isn’t your first time Googling removing body hair. The upside: There’s no shortage of options, as you’ve probably already realized. The downside: It usually takes a bit of experimenting to decide which is the right kind for you.
Let’s imagine those options situated on a spectrum. On the far left, we have shaving. It’s fast and painless, but the hair grows back in a matter of a few days. We’ll find waxing a few spots to the right. It’ll keep you hairless for up to a few weeks, but it can really irritate your skin. And, let’s be honest, it hurts like hell. Holding down the far right end of the spectrum, there’s electrolysis, which is the only FDA-approved treatment for permanent hair removal. But it can be time-consuming, costly, and, above all, painful.
Situated somewhere in between waxing and electrolysis is laser hair removal, which is considered a semi-permanent hair-removal option. What’s that mean, exactly? You shouldn’t expect to be perfectly smooth after a treatment, but it will remove most of the hair. New hair may crop up later on, which will require a touch-up, but it’ll grow in finer and lighter than it was before. And the overall effects of the treatment are lasting.
So, how does it work and, more importantly, does it hurt?
How it works
Laser hair removal targets the hair follicle. Even more specifically, it targets the pigment cells that reside in the hair follicle and then burns the follicle and the root. This is how that will look like from your perspective: An instrument’s pressed to your skin. That instrument will produce a laser beam, which will pass through your skin and damage the follicles.
The thought of burning anything on your body may sound painful, but it all happens so quickly that the most you should feel is a warm sensation and maybe some itchiness that should disappear completely within 20 minutes to two hours of the treatment. And even that should become progressively milder with each treatment.
As to how many treatments you’ll need, it varies from person to person and depends on the area you’re having treated. Typically, patients will come in for four treatments with three to four weeks between them. The reason for the timing is because we need to catch each follicle in the right growth stage. That said, you’ll notice a change in your hair growth after a single treatment.
As to how long a treatment lasts, expect about 20 minutes for a small area, like the chin, and up to an hour-and-a-half for a leg or the back.
What to look for
A couple other points to consider: Because laser hair removal targets the melanin (dark pigment) in hair follicles, the darker your skin, the harder it is to distinguish between the skin color and pigment in the follicles. You’ll still be able to get good results, but it may take more treatments than it would for someone with light skin and dark hair.
You also want to make sure that you find a board-certified dermatologist who’s trained and experienced in the procedure. Laser hair removal isn’t taught in medical school, so even doctors need training and certification. If you take your chances with an untrained technician, laser hair removal could result in blistering or scarring.
A properly trained dermatologist will ask about your medical history and any skin conditions you may have—and will always be able to answer any concerns that crop up.