Laser Hair Removal 101: Everything You Need to Know Before Your Appointment
Hair Color Matters — Skintone Is Less Important.
Whether you’re treating your face or toes (and everywhere in between), the hair can only be eliminated if it has pigment. “An ideal candidate is someone who has dark hair to remove,” says Christian Karavolas, owner of Romeo & Juliette Laser Hair Removal. “Candidates who have white, light blonde or light red hair are not candidates, as laser is attracted to pigment.” However, new technology is being developed all the time, so remain hopeful! Lasers that work for you could be available soon.
One big misconception is that some skintones are not qualified for laser hair removal. “African American skin can also be treated, as long as an Nd:YAG laser is used,” says Karavolas. (More on this later!)
Laser Hair Removal Is Gender Neutral.
Though women are more prone to booking this appointment, men are also fans of laser hair removal. However, each gender prefers to treat different areas. According to Karavolas, women most commonly opt to laser their legs, bikini, underarms and face. For men, it’s usually chest, back, arms, buttocks and bikini. More and more men are also choosing to laser their necks in the name of reducing ingrown hairs from shaving. Learn more about this here.
It’s Cost Effective.
Rather than buying shaving cream, razors and other drugstore products — or waxing packages at your local spa — purchasing laser hair removal treatments can benefit your wallet. “In the short term, the price tag may be higher than any other modality,” notes Karavolas. For example, at Romeo & Juliette Laser Hair Removal™, an upper lip session costs $75, while full legs are $700 per session. “However, in the long term, results are more permanent,” she says. Spending that money up front means never devoting chunks of your paycheck to a leg wax again.
Do Your Laser Research (via Search Engine Counts).
It’s important to find a reputable, experienced place for laser hair removal — after all, this is technically a medical treatment! — and know ahead of time which lasers are most suitable for your skin. Most spas, laser centers and doctors’ offices will list their lasers online (and if they don’t, you can always call and ask what technology they use).
If a laser designed for dark skin is selected for a client light colored skin, there won’t be much hair loss. And more severe problems can occur. “If the wrong laser or settings are used, one can see some first degree burns, that usually heal within two to three weeks,” says Karavolas. Again, it’s important to do your research.
According to LaserAway in Manhattan, there are four lasers often used for hair removal. Here are some of their advantages – and disadvantages:
The laser: Ruby.
Benefits: Best for people with dark hair and light skin, it’s excellent for long-term hair. removal. This is largely comfortable to experience (compared to other lasers), often results in finer and sparser hair growth, and there’s a cooling built into the laser to minimize chance of burns.
Disadvantages: This technology is a bit older and cannot be used on tan or dark skin and cannot be used on white or light hair. Because it’s best for treating smaller areas, it may take more time per treatment to see results. There’s also a risk of redness and swelling.
The laser: Alexandrite.
Benefits: It works on a fairly wide range of skintones and hair colors (but especially light complexions) and is effective on both coarse and thin/fine hairs. It’s one of the fastest lasers available, and can easily treat large areas on the body.
Disadvantages: There’s a possibility that this laser could either darken or lighten the area that’s being treated, and it’s not effective on deep skintones. Treatments with this laser could also be more uncomfortable than others.
The laser: Nd:YAG.
Benefits: This is an ideal option for nearly every skin type, including tan and deep complexions. It can rapidly treat larger areas of the body, too.
Disadvantages: It isn’t successful on white, light, or fine hairs, and may cause more discomfort than some of these other options. It could even cause swelling and scars if the technician isn’t experienced.
The laser: Diode.
Benefits: It works on complexions from light to deep (but is best for light to medium) and can treat large areas of the body. It’s especially effective on thick, coarse hairs.
Disadvantages: You could be at risk for burns, skin discoloration, redness and swelling, as well as urticaria (itchy hives).
Shave Beforehand, Don’t Wax.
Even though it’s tempting to pluck, tweeze and remove those hairs you’re hoping to laser away, be patient prior to your appointment. As Demirovic points out, “If there is no hair in the follicle, there is nothing for the laser to see, and the treatment would be a waste.” Adds Karavolas, “for areas such as legs, bikini and underarms, we suggest not waxing two weeks prior to treatment.”
That said, shaving is completely acceptable — and even encouraged, especially a day or two before the treatment. You want the hairs to be short so the laser focuses on treating the follicle below the skin’s surface, not the hair above it.
Clean, Healthy Skin Is Happy Skin.
Completely naked (that is, skin free of any lotions, oils, or other products!) is the best way to arrive to your laser appointment. Self tanner is especially essential to avoid. “You will be turned away if you have self tanner on,” warns GLO Skin & Laser co-founder Aisha Balic. “The laser can confuse it with hair and wind up causing an adverse reaction.”
For that same reason, it’s also important to avoid the sun two weeks before laser hair removal. Additionally, you should be cautious if you’re taking any medications. All antibiotics should be out of your system for at least a week before you’re treated. Consult with your laser technician or dermatologist if you have further questions.
Block Some Time on Your Calendar.
Like shaving, the time commitment needed to reduce hair is contingent on the amount of space you’re targeting. Sessions can last anywhere from five to 40 minutes, depending on the area of the body. For example, your underarms require a shorter session than full legs.
Talk to Your Licensed Provider Beforehand.
It’s always a good idea to discuss any medical aesthetics treatments you’re considering with your doctor to avoid any unexpected snafus. It’s an especially smart move if you get cold sores. While lasers can’t give them, they can trigger the not-so-attractive bumps if you already get them.
“If you are prone to getting cold sores and you want to treat your face, I would recommend taking Valtrex three days before and three days after to avoid that from happening,” says GLO Skin & Laser co-founder Sai Demirovic. “The heat is sometimes enough to trigger one.”