Everything you need to know before getting laser hair removal

·7 min read
Photo credit:  Natalia Mantini / Refinery29 for Getty Images
Photo credit: Natalia Mantini / Refinery29 for Getty Images

If you're considering laser hair removal, it pays to study up. We know it's easy to be lured in by the promise of a stubble-free life, but it's oh-so important to read up on the facts (and side effects) first, to make sure the treatment is right for you.

There are so many pros to getting laser beyond just the hair removal aspect. If you are susceptible to ingrown hairs that aggravate your skin and cause pigmentation (super common in deep skin tones skin) then it can help to eliminate this.

The options for hair removal are endless. From waxing to threading and shaving to tweezing, but laser hair removal is one of the few options that offers a more permanent approach to getting rid of body hair (if you wish too).

However, just like with any procedure you’re doing to your body, it’s a good idea to thoroughly research the ins and outs of the process before you start a course. Because, while the end result will be *chef’s kiss*, there are a few things to bear in mind and ways you can prep for the best laser experience, wherever on your body you’re getting it done.

We spoke to a few laser experts at Pulse Light Clinic and sk:n clinic about everything you need to know prior to getting laser. Below you’ll find out straight facts and have all your laser myths busted – from laser triggering hair growth (rarely) to having to avoid sun exposure (always).

1. The process sounds painful, but isn’t too bad

Dr. Daron Seukeran, Group Medical Director at the sk:n clinic explains that laser hair removal works by sending the light of a laser through the pigment in the hair. “This (light) converts to heat, which damages the hair follicle and hair bulb.” I found it to be a quick, sharp pain which I found more painful on thinner skin near my nose, chin and temples. Thankfully, the lasers used on me had a cooling mechanism (basically a constantly running cold blast of air right where the laser was pointing) which really helped. I also found it more painful if my body temp was raised due to running across town to make it on time for my appointment.

2. Patience pays off

It takes two or three weeks after your first treatment to see a difference, and 8 -12 treatments to get the full result. You also have to be really regular with your appointments because your hair follicles are all at different stages of their growth, so you want to make sure each one has a chance to get zapped.

“Laser hair removal gets to the root of the problem, literally,” says Lucy Dawe, Senior Consultant at Pulse Light Clinic. “The laser will target the hair that is in its active growth stage. Clients may find hair to appear finer and less noticeable after one treatment but a course of treatments is essential to see optimal results.”

3. You’ve got to use a hair trimmer/shave the area before you laser (same goes for makeup)

The laser can react with hair on the skin’s surface which will cause some irritation and maybe dreaded burnt hair smell which I learned first hand, yay. Thankfully for me, I knew that whole ‘shaving = thicker darker hair’ was a really common beauty myth.

You do have to make sure you have prepped properly before each visit though for the optimum results.

Lucy says these are the key things to remember:

  • The area must be cleanly shaved within 24 hours prior to the treatment. Electric razors are not recommended as the hair is typically left too long.

  • Do not tweeze, wax or pluck the area being treated between or prior to sessions. Only shave the area.

  • The treatment area needs to be free from makeup, lotion, deodorant and sun cream- inform the practitioner before treatment starts if you require wipes.

  • The area cannot be treated if it has been exposed to sun within 4 weeks prior to treatment.

  • Fake tanning products cannot be used 3-4 weeks prior to treatment; the area should be thoroughly exfoliated to remove all residues.

Photo credit: Caroline Tompkins / Refinery29 for Getty Images
Photo credit: Caroline Tompkins / Refinery29 for Getty Images

4. It’s actually a pretty fast process

You can go in for a full face appointments and they only take 20 minutes, including a quick chat and makeup removal at the start. Sure, you had to reapply your makeup but that's a small price to pay for smooth skin, right?

5. You can’t go to the gym afterward

The heat from the laser stays in your skin for 24 hours so no gym, saunas, hot showers, you get it. If you do, you run the risk of creating a lovely warm environment for bacteria to multiply and give you spots. Gross.

6. Get ready to think seriously about the sun

Your dermatologist will advise what is best for you, but you might need to avoid sunbathing and sun exposure as much as possible before and after treatment. Also if you have a tan you’ll need to wait till it fades before you can start your treatment. Again, your dermatologist will check in with you about upcoming holidays to make sure you don’t have a holiday coming up which might affect the timing of your next appointment.

Photo credit: LaylaBird - Getty Images
Photo credit: LaylaBird - Getty Images

7. Laser treatment can trigger more growth in some cases

It’s true, particular types of hair can be stimulated into growing longer and thicker. But don’t worry, if hair isn’t suitable, your dermatologist will let you know.

“Yes, in a rare number of cases laser hair removal can stimulate growth,” says Lucy. “We have found the most common reason for stimulated hair growth is when certain type of finer hair, known as vellus hairs are stimulated into growth by the light from the laser."

8. You might need to switch up your beauty regime and products

Scrubs, glycolic acid and retinol creams should be avoided 2 days before and after treatment. I also started using face mists and added extra moisturisers to my regime as my skin got drier. It’s recommended that for a 2 week period before and after laser, you avoid chemical peels and similarly you should wait 1-2 weeks before using fake tan.

9. Laser hair removal has more than one benefit

I was surprised to learn that laser can actually help with irritating AF ingrown hairs. “Aside from clearer, smoother skin and permanent hair reduction, laser hair removal also boasts benefits including helping to reduce ingrowing hairs and less irritation of the skin. This is because the treatment encourages hair to grow straight,” said sk:n’s Head of Medical Standards, Lisa Mason.

10. You can’t pluck, dye or wax the hair

Plucking, waxing and bleaching impedes the process. If you want to be hairless throughout the process, go the shaving route instead. You’ll need these tips to make each shave last longer though.

11. It works on all skin tones

The hair just needs to be dark enough to drawn the laser. sk:n use long pulsed ND:YAG lasers – which are safer for treating pigmented or darker skin tones.

“Older laser hair removal technology was previously not recommended for people of darker skin tones, in particular those with Black or Asian skin,” says Lucy. “The energy from the laser targets the pigment in the hair, with the pigment of the skin being shallower, this could lead the laser to be attracted to the skin rather than the pigment in the hair. Putting darker skin tones at risk of burning.”

12. You might need to go back for top up treatments

Most people report 90 percent permanent reduction in hair growth but fluctuating hormones can make hair grow back. "Depending on your hair growth and each individual clients' case, at the end of the treatments we may recommend some top up treatments which could take place with larger periods in between quarterly, or twice a year," advises Lucy.

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