10 Things You Should Know About Laser Hair Removal
Tips From an Expert
I'm not an esthetician. I haven't had any formal training in performing laser hair removal (LHR). But I have been on the receiving end of LHR treatments many, many times. I've had most of my body lasered to some extent - face, neck, underarms, bikini, legs, and feet. I've received treatments from several different types of laser at several different spas. So from a consumer standpoint, I feel like I'm pretty close to an expert, and would like to share some advice.
There's no doubt for me that laser hair removal can be life changing. Yes, that sounds a little dramatic. But its true. For a woman like me - light skinned and dark haired, shaving was a huge part of my life. If I wanted to wear shorts during the day and a dress at night, I'd have to shave my legs in the morning and again in the evening. No joke. The hair was so dark that you could see it under my skin, even right after I shaved, and grew so fast that I literally got a five o'clock shadow. I never wore sleeveless blouses because of the dark shadow. I spent a half hour every singe day just shaving myself so I wouldn't look like a yeti.
Then came motherhood, and I started growing hair in new places that I'd never had to deal with before. Suddenly I was having to set my alarm to make sure I was out of bed before my husband so that I'd have time to check my chin and neck for stray hairs before he saw me. I went to the doctor, had my hormone levels checked, and everything was seemingly fine. But the situation, which had been a complete pain before my son was born suddenly became much worse. I knew I had to do something. So 10 years ago I had my first laser hair removal treatment - and my life has been unimaginably better.
#1 - Shop Around for Price
For those considering laser hair removal for the first time, this is by far the most important piece of advice I can impart. Prices vary widely depending on where you go for treatment. And though most spas won't advertise this, the truth is that the price is almost always negotiable, especially if you go in armed with the knowledge of how much it will cost elsewhere. Unfortunately, a lot of places won't quote prices over the phone, but almost all offer a free consultation.
Plus, pricing structures vary as well. While one spa may charge $100 per session for treatment of lower legs, another spa may charge $1,000 for six treatments of lower legs, but offer a guarantee that lets you get as many additional treatments as you need in that area free or at a reduced price for a certain length of time. In the long run, the second option may turn out to be the better price. When I was having my lower legs done, it took fourteen sessions before I was smooth because I started out with extremely coarse, dark hair.
One thing to keep in mind though, if the clinic you've decided on only sells in packages, then there's probably a contract involved, and payment required up front. If you've never had any laser hair removal and are unsure about your tolerance, ask for a free test patch of the area to be treated before signing your contract. If they won't do it, consider another clinic for your treatments, or at the very least, find one that will do a single treatment without the purchase of a package. It will be much better to spend $50 or $100 and find out that you can't tolerate the treatment, than to spend a non-refundable $1,000-1,500 and find out.
#2 - Make Sure Your Clinic is Using the Right Laser
(Price is Important but Shouldn't be Your Only Consideration)
It's an unfortunate fact that smaller clinics, or spas that only do LHR as a sidebar to other services may only have one laser machine. Which means that it may very well not be the type of machine that is recommended for your particular skin and hair color.
So before paying anything or signing any contracts, ask about their machines and make sure that what they have is the right one for you. Don't let anyone talk you into having your services performed using the wrong machine. After all, if they have only one type of device, chance are they're going to bill it as good for all skin and hair types, which is extremely unlikely. Women with darker skin or ligher hair must be especially aware of the type of laser that will be used on them.
Keep in mind too, that there's not a laser on the market that will work on pale grey or white hair. So if you're considering laser and starting to go grey in those areas, get your LHR done soon! And if you're already there...electrolysis is really your best bet.
#3 - Check Out the Online Reviews of Your Local Spas/Clinics
Most people who take the time to review a service such as laser hair removal do so because they're unhappy with the service they're received. So when looking at online review sites you're probably only going to see the Bad and the Ugly. Because happy people don't leave reviews as often. So its difficult to get a really good idea of which are the best spas and clinics, when only the worst are being reviewed.
But even bad reviews can be helpful. If you see 10 reviews and each person is complaining about something different, chances are that a lot of them simply make a bad decision about the spa they chose. I was reading a review the other day for a local LHR clinic, and the woman writing the review had just had the area waxed that she planned to have lasered. From her review, it was obvious that she knew laser wouldn't be effective after waxing, but she chose to do it anyway, and then blamed the clinic. To some extent, there's an amount of personal responsibility that needs to be exercised, so that type of review just doesn't worry me.
What sets my radar off is seeing the same recurring theme in complaints, such as repeated use of the wrong laser, or multiple people reporting unsuccessful treatments over an extended period of time.
So do find out as much as you can about your LHR clinic. But read the reviews with an educated eye. And don't be afraid to call the clinic, ask for a manager, and discuss your concerns.
#4 - Take Some Tylenol Before You Go
Unfortunately laser hair removal does hurt. The level of pain will vary widely depending on what area is being treated and how many treatments have already been performed in that area. In other words, the bikini area will hurt more than lower legs, in general. But...the sixth treatment in the bikini area might hurt less than the first treatment on the lower legs.
Some clinics will apply a topical anesthetic to help reduce pain, but not all do. So if you have a very low pain tolerance, I recommend you find a clinic that offers this service, or at the very least, take a a couple of Tylenol before your treatment starts. There are also over the counter anesthetics that you can buy, but the effects are very short lived, so you'll probably need to cooperation of your clinic in order to use them.
Most clinics will tell you that the pain feels like a rubber band being snapped against your skin. I've never really agreed, unless we're talking about rubber bands with pins stuck in them. Or flaming rubber bands, maybe. But again, it really depends on the area. And, if you've ever had a tattoo and thought that was tolerable, then you'll probably do just fine with laser hair removal.
#5 - Don't Expect Immediate Results
Laser hair removal takes time. Usually at least two visits to see any noticeable change, and a minimum of seven visits for a full reductions. So don't plan to hit the clinic once before your Caribbean vacation and expect it to have any effect on how much time you spend shaving during vacation.
Here's an approximation of how many times I had to have each area done before I was smooth:
Chin/neck - 8
Underarms - 8
Upper legs - 10
Lower legs - 14
Feet - 6
#6 - Don't Expect the Results to Last Forever
(Especially if You're an Older Woman)
When LHR first became available, clinics and spas all claimed it was a "permanent" solution to shaving. We've since learned that it truly isn't. Granted, it will definitely be a permanent reduction. I am very sure that if I never have any re-treatments again, I will never experience the type of hair growth I had before LHR.
My experiences has been that I remain completely smooth for about five years. Then slowly the hair starts to come back in. Much lighter, much finer, but definitely there.
There are a lot of things that can effect how quickly the hair returns. Medication and hormones seem to be the top two. So older women going through menopause might experience hair regrowth sooner than a younger woman.
#7 - Buy a Tria Laser for Touchups
My hair regrowth, even on the areas I had done ten years ago is still extremely minimal. But there came a point several months ago when I got frustrated with the growth on my knees. No, I'm nowhere close to being the yeti that I formerly was, but I loved the luxury of not having to shave, and for some reason the hair on my knees had decided to come back in at a slightly faster rate than anything else.
I considered going in for professional treatments, but when I started doing some research, I stumbled across some information on over the counter lasers that are now being sold. After reading lots of reviews I decided that the Tria Laser seemed like a good option for me.
There's no doubt that the Tria works more slowly than a professional laser treatment, but it Does work. Based on my experience, I'd guess that I probably would have needed two professional treatment to fix my knees, and it took about 10 with the Tria (on its highest setting). But its easy, convenient, and I now have my own laser to do future touch-ups.
I have tried using the Tria on areas where I'd previously had no LHR, at its is definitely a very, very slow process. So I could only honestly recommend it for touch-ups. But for that use, it is really a great product!
#8 - Stay Out of the Sun
If you want your LHR treatments to be as effective as possible, you Must stay out of the sun while getting them. Any changes to the natural pigment to your skin can cause the laser to direct energy towards the skin that should be directed at the hair. So if you're tempted to "sneak" in some sun time or a tanning session, the only one you're hurting is yourself.
Yes, I know that it sounds kind of condescending, but its true! You will get much better results if you allow yourself to get as pale as humanly possible (at least in the area to be treated).
And yes, sunless tanners cause the same problem. So no cheating!
#9 - Avoid Having Your Face Done if You're Prone to Dark Patches
Freckles and dark spots can be darkened when the light from the laser is applied to them. This is Usually only temporary, however I do know a few older women whose existing age spots were darkened by treatment, and became permanent. Of course, there are lotions on the market that will lighten them again, but you should wait to use them until you've finished your treatments.
One friend of mine is prone to getting a dark shadow over her upper lip during the summer, and having LHR treatment in that area seems to have exacerbated that problem for her. So be mindful of this if you are prone to dark spots in the area to be treated. Especially if having the spots even temporarily darkened will cause problems.
I recommend waiting until winter to have the face done as your skin will be naturally paler, and you can cover up the spots (if necessary) with more foundation in the wintertime than you could get away with during the summer.
#10 - Educate Yourself
If you're considering laser hair removal, I urge you to read all you can on the subject. Obviously you already started if you're reading this - but don't stop here. Make sure you understand the different treatment options, which will be very different for darker skinned people than for light skinned people, or dark haired versus light haired people. Don't let yourself get ripped off by paying for treatments that won't work for your skin or hair type.
Read what the American Academy of Dermatology has to say about laser hair removal, and then visit the websites of the spas/clinics you're considering and see if the information they're advertising is in line with the AAD. If they're making inflated claims, you may want to avoid them.