Laser Hair Removal

Overview

What is laser hair removal?

Laser hair removal is a procedure to remove unwanted hair on your body. It’s noninvasive, which means it doesn’t require any cuts in your skin. People may get this treatment on any part of their body, but the most common areas are:

  • Face.
  • Underarms.
  • Bikini area, or any areas that grow pubic hair.
  • Back.
  • Legs.

How does laser hair removal work?

Laser hair removal uses a process called selective photothermolysis. Heat from a laser destroys cells that have a lot of pigment (color). Since dark hair has a lot of pigment, it absorbs the most heat. Hair transfers heat to the hair follicles and destroys them, so hair can’t grow.

A hair follicle has to be in its anagen, or growth, stage for the procedure to work. Follicles are in different stages at different times, so most people need multiple laser treatments.

Who can have laser hair removal?

Anyone with extra body hair can have laser hair removal. It’s usually a cosmetic procedure. It may improve your appearance or self-image. Many people also prefer not having to shave regularly.

Sometimes laser hair removal treats excess hair growth caused by:

  • Hirsutism, when women grow dark or coarse hair in areas where men usually have hair.
  • Hypertrichosis, when men or women grow excess hair anywhere on their bodies.

These conditions might be the result of:

Laser hair removal is most effective for people with thick, dark hair and light skin. The contrast between skin color and hair color makes it easier for the hair to absorb heat. It might not work as well for people with dark skin or hair that’s blonde, gray, white or red.

Who shouldn’t have laser hair removal?

Talk to your healthcare provider before having laser hair removal. You may need to avoid the procedure if you:

Procedure Details

How should I prepare for laser hair removal?

In the weeks leading up to your procedure, avoid tanning beds and stay out of the sun as much as possible. Naturally or artificially tanned skin can make laser hair removal less effective and lead to side effects.

Shave the area that will be treated two to three days before a treatment. Laser hair removal treatments won’t work on areas where the hair is longer than a grain of rice. After treatment begins, avoid waxing, tweezing and plucking hair in the treated areas.

What happens during laser hair removal?

Laser hair removal involves several steps. Your healthcare provider:

  • Cleans the area.
  • Gives you protective glasses or goggles to wear during the procedure. Your healthcare also wears protective eyewear.
  • Treats your skin with the laser. It might feel like a series of stings. Some people describe it as a rubber band snapping against their skin.

Your procedure might take a few minutes or up to an hour. It depends on the size of the area that is being treated. You might smell smoke and burning hair. This is normal, and is the hair burning away from the laser’s heat.

What happens after laser hair removal?

Your skin might be red, swollen and a little painful after laser hair removal. You can use a cold compress on the treated area. Don’t expose the treated area to natural or artificial sunlight. You should be able to go back to normal activities right away.

Risks / Benefits

Is laser hair removal safe?

Laser hair removal is usually safe and effective for most people. Only an experienced healthcare provider should perform the procedure.

What are the side effects of laser hair removal?

Possible side effects of laser hair removal include:

  • Blisters.
  • Burns.
  • Herpes outbreaks.
  • Hyperpigmentation, areas of skin that are darker than the surrounding skin.
  • Hypopigmentation, areas of skin that are lighter than the surrounding skin.
  • Infections.
  • Scars.

What are the benefits of laser hair removal?

The results of laser hair removal last longer than shaving, waxing, tweezing or plucking.

Some people prefer laser hair removal to electrolysis. Electrolysis uses a thin wire to destroy hair follicles with electric current. Benefits of laser hair removal over electrolysis include:

  • Fewer treatments.
  • Less pain during treatment.
  • Reduced risk of ingrown hairs.

Recovery and Outlook

Will I need multiple treatments?

You’ll likely need anywhere from six to eight laser hair removal treatments. Sessions are usually about six to eight weeks apart. This timing helps capture more hairs in different growth phases.

How long do the effects of laser hair removal last?

Most people see about a 10% to 25% reduction in hair growth after the first treatment. After all your treatments, you may not have new hair growth for several months or years.

Is laser hair removal permanent?

Laser hair removal isn’t permanent. It’s unlikely that treatments will target all the hairs in their growth phase. Some hair will grow back, but it’s usually lighter and thinner than before.

Additional Details

Can I do laser hair removal at home?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves some laser hair removal devices for home use. Without supervision by an experienced healthcare provider, the risk of misuse or injury increases. Use extreme caution and protective eyewear if you do at-home laser hair removal.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Laser hair removal is a safe, effective way to remove unwanted body hair. Heat from a laser removes hair and destroys hair follicles. It’s not permanent, but the results last longer than plucking, tweezing or waxing. Most people need multiple treatments. Only an experienced healthcare provider should perform this procedure. Potential side effects include burning, scarring and permanent skin discoloration.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/01/2021.

References

  • American Academy of Dermatology Association. Laser Hair Removal: FAQs. (https://www.aad.org/public/cosmetic/hair-removal/laser-hair-removal-faqs) Accessed 9/27/2021.
  • American Society for Laser Medicine & Surgery. Laser Hair Removal. (https://www.aslms.org/for-the-public/treatments-using-lasers-and-energy-based-devices/laser-hair-removal) Accessed 9/27/2021.
  • Gan SD, Graber EM. Laser Hair Removal: A Review. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23332016/) Dermatol Surg. 2013 June;39(6):823-838. Accessed 9/27/2021.
  • Görgü M, Aslan G, Aköz T, Erdoğan B. Comparison of Alexandrite Laser and Electrolysis for Hair Removal. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10632684/) Dermatologic Surgery. 2000 Jan;26(1):37-41. Accessed 9/27/2021.
  • Merck Manual (Consumer Version). Hairiness. (https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/skin-disorders/hair-disorders/hairiness) Accessed 9/27/2021.

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