If you've been debating laser hair removal, you have come to the right place. As you're surely aware, there's a lot to consider and it's important to do your research first whether you're looking for a clinic or considering investing in at home device.
Only once you've read up on the pros and cons of laser hair removal and the subsequent side effects can you make a decision if the treatment is right for you.
Not only does laser hair removal help remove unwanted hair, but it also can help with other issues like ingrown hairs, which are prone to causing hyperpigmentation, especially in deep skin tones.
While we've come a long way in accepting our body hair, we totally understand that for some, permanent removal is still the goal. In that case laser would definitely be worth the investment.
However, it's important to remember that laser doesn't always result in permanent hair removal and there are many other methods like waxing, threading, shaving and tweezing. Not to mention at-home IPL devices.
The one thing you can be sure of with laser hair removal is that it takes time and money. Sadly it's not a one and done job and normally 8-12 treatments are recommended, spaced over 4-6 weeks. However this can vary based on the individual and area you are treating.
To answer some of your burning questions, we spoke to experts at Pulse Light Clinic and sk:n clinic about everything you need to know prior to getting laser, as well as sharing our personal experiences after having the treatment ourselves.
Below you’ll find straight facts and have all your laser myths busted – from 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.” In our experience we found it to be a quick, sharp pain which was more painful on thinner skin near the nose, chin and temples. Thankfully, the lasers used on us had a cooling mechanism (basically a constantly running cold blast of air right where the laser was pointing) which really helped. We also found it more painful if our body temperature was raised due to running across town to make it on time for our appointments. So time management really does help.
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. Basically if you stop, your hair will grow back.
“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 sometimes that dreaded burnt hair smell which we learnt first hand, yay. Thankfully for us, we knew the whole ‘shaving = thicker darker hair’ was a really common beauty myth and came shaved before our subsequent appointments.
Remember, you have to make sure you've prepped properly before each visit 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.
Glossier Body Hero Exfoliating Bar
Kylie Skin Coconut body scrub
Brush Works Precision Eyebrow Razors
4. It’s actually a pretty fast process
A full face appointment can take as little as 20 minutes and that's including a quick chat and makeup removal at the start.
5. You can’t go to the gym afterwards
It's important to remember that the heat from the laser stays in your skin for 24 hours. That means no gym, saunas or hot showers, get it? If you do, you run the risk of creating a lovely warm environment for bacteria to multiply, resulting in spots and irritation.
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.
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 your 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 types 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 two days before and after treatment. We also started using face mists and added extra hydration to our regime as we found our skin got drier.
It’s recommended that for a two week period before and after laser, you avoid chemical peels and similarly you should wait 1-2 weeks before using fake tan.
Shop our favourite face and body laser after care products:
La Roche-Posay Toleriane Ultra 8 Face Mist
Summer Fridays Dream Oasis Deep Hydration Serum
Avène XeraCalm A.D. Lipid-Replenishing Cleansing Oil for Very Dry, Itchy Skin
Garnier Body Superfood Avocado & Omega 6 Nourishing Body Cream
9. Laser hair removal has more than one benefit
We were surprised to learn that laser can actually help with irritating 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 be drawn to 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.
Keeks ReidContributing Beauty EditorKeeks Reid is the Contributing Beauty Editor at Cosmopolitan UK.
Laura CaponSenior Fashion & Beauty WriterLaura writes about everything beauty and fashion related for Cosmopolitan UK and specialises in makeup, plus-size fashion and the world of YouTube.
What happens if I don't shave before laser hair removal? ›
As we mentioned a little earlier, if you don't shave before your appointment, the laser will singe the hair resulting in a burn to your skin. In addition, if the hair hasn't been shaved properly, treatment will not be as effective, and it may result in small temporary grazes on the top layer of your skin.What are the do's and don'ts before laser? ›
Before laser hair removal
You must avoid plucking, waxing or bleaching the hair for six weeks prior to treatment. Preserving the root and the pigment of the hair is imperative for the success of the laser treatment. It is important to shave the area to be treated the day or night before your appointment.
Do not pick/scratch/wax/thread/tweeze the area. Avoid picking or scratching the treated skin. do not use any other hair removal methods or products, other than shaving, on the treated area during the course of your laser treatments, as it will prevent you from achieving the best results. Hair growth varies.Can I shave between laser sessions? ›
Yes, you can shave in between each session of laser hair removal. During your course of treatment you can shave any hairs that may regrow. After your first laser hair removal session you will notice that you won't need to shave as much as before. After 2-3 sessions you may only need to shave once in a 4-6 week period.Can I shave 2 hours before laser hair removal? ›
It is important to shave before your laser hair removal appointment, 24 hours before is recommended. Shaving on the day of your session can be dangerous and should be avoided completely. This is because when you shave the razor may lift a layer of skin off as it passes over your skin.Is stubble OK for laser hair removal? ›
Stubble. It's critical to shave within 24 hours prior to undergoing laser hair removal. Even a small amount of stubble can damage the laser and cause unnecessary pain, hyperpigmentation, and burns.How painful is laser hair removal? ›
Yes, laser removal does cause discomfort, but it typically causes much less discomfort than other forms of hair removal, especially waxing. Many individuals describe laser hair removal as akin to the feeling of a rubber band snapping against your skin.What happens if you shave less than 24 hours before laser hair removal? ›
Therefore, if you shave less than 24 hours before your scheduled appointment then there won't be enough hair present to burn, and this can cause irritation to the treatment area.What should I wear to laser hair removal? ›
Clothes: You should wear clothing that's both comfortable and leaves easy access to the area that's being treated. Wear clothes you're comfortable with a little cream rubbing off on – a topical cream may be used to soothe the area.Can I shower before my laser? ›
Things to do before laser hair removal:
Shower. While the treatment area itself will be cleaned before treatment begins, it is a good idea to have a bath or shower before coming in - remember no lotions, oils, or fragrances on the treatment area though!
How painful is laser hair removal? ›
Yes, laser removal does cause discomfort, but it typically causes much less discomfort than other forms of hair removal, especially waxing. Many individuals describe laser hair removal as akin to the feeling of a rubber band snapping against your skin.Is getting laser hair removal worth it? ›
While laser treatment doesn't get rid of hair forever (only electrolysis is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for permanent hair removal), it does drastically reduce hair growth—to the point that many patients won't see any for months or even years, and the hairs that do crop up are often thinner ...