Preparing for Your Laser Hair Removal Session
You've read, researched online, and weighed the benefits and risks. You've read some of the horror stories about how it hurt. And of course, the cost. The decision was not made lightly, but you are now committed. Any drawback you've read about will be worth the permanent smoothness you will have after it is all done. So now that you've signed up and paid for your laser hair removal package, what do you do before you go in?
Is there anything you can do to reduce the pain? Can you control any variable that can affect how well the laser works? Or do you put your faith in the technician and leave it all to them?
The answer is, there are some things you can do to affect both the effectiveness and the pain. The effectiveness of which, may vary with the individual, and the variable.
Keep the Treated Area From Tanning
Depending on how you look at it, this can be both the easiest and the hardest thing you can do to make sure the laser does its job. The laser is focused to use wavelengths that target the melanin in your hair. If there is more melanin present in your skin from tanning, it will make it much more difficult for the laser to focus on the hair, and some of the surrounding skin may be attacked instead. That is why the ideal candidate has light skin and dark hair - the contrast makes it easy for the laser to detect the follicle. When you lessen that contrast, you will get an undesirable result. You want to avoid sun exposure for that area for at least three weeks prior to your session. Also, you want to avoid sun exposure for 1-2 weeks after your treatment as well. The skin will be tender for a while, and the ultraviolet rays could be painful.
If you live in a seasonal climate, this can be facilitated by beginning your treatment when the weather begins to get cooler, and you are no longer spending as much time outside. If you begin treatment in late October, you could receive four sessions by the end of April. That will most likely not be enough to get rid of all the hair, however you can probably get the rest of it taken care of with another four treatments starting the next fall.
If you decide you don't want to wait until fall for your first or your next treatment, there are some steps you can take to minimize sun exposure. If you are the type that loves outdoor activities, this can be a challenge, depending on where you are getting lasered. If you are getting your back lasered, it can be easier to avoid tanning the area. When you go outside, keep a shirt on. Same applies if you go swimming. If you are having your face done, this can be a bit harder. If you are going to be outside for any length of time, wear a wide brimmed hat, and spend as much time in the shade as you can.
Shave the Area
If you do not shave the area to be treated, the technician will do this before the laser. It may seem counterintuitive to eliminate the hair on the surface. But if this is not done, the energy from the laser pulse will target and hit the hair above, and the pulse will not reach the follicle to destroy it. In addition to providing a bad result, the burning of the hair above the surface can also cause burns to the skin.
I would recommend shaving the night before your session. Shaving, even when done correctly, tends to make skin tender and sensitive for a time after. Raw and tender skin can intensify the pain of the laser. If it is done the night before, it will have time to recover itself.
And the word shave must be stressed. Do not, under any circumstances, use a depilatory such as Nair, or wax the area. In fact, neither should be used for at least four weeks prior to your laser treatment. Waxing and depilatories remove hair at the root, leaving the laser with no melanin within the follicle to target and destroy.
There are a million reasons to make sure you stay adequately hydrated. So, if you are getting laser treatment, now you have a million and one. Dehydration increases pain sensitivity everywhere in the body, from joints, muscles, and yes, skin.
I would recommend drinking at least a pint of water, but probably close to a quart, starting 1.5-2 hours before your treatment, and finish about an hour to a half hour before. It may be a good idea to go to the bathroom at the spa or dermatologist office right before your treatment is about to begin.
If you know you have exceptionally sensitive skin in advance, and are anticipating the worst as far as pain, you can request a numbing cream prescription from a dermatologist. These creams are lidocaine based. There are also some less concentrated creams that are over the counter.
Numbing creams need to be used with caution. They are ideal over a small area. But they cannot be applied to a wide surface area on the skin, such as the entire back or the entire legs. This will cause an overdose of lidocaine that can have a range of side effects that could be serious, and even fatal. There have been cases of people dying by slathering a lot of their cream on before they go to their appointment, and then using saran wrap to secure the cream onto their skin. Consult your dermatologist or pharmacist before using either an over the counter or a prescription cream.
It should be noted that while a numbing cream cannot be used on the entire back or legs, it is possible that it can be used on a fraction of that surface, if there is an area in particular that is more sensitive than other areas. But again, do not apply it yourself before you go in. Let your technician apply it for you during your session.
If the numbing cream either scared you off, or it is going to be too large of an area for you to use, you can try taking aspirin or ibuprofen. If you are allergic to NSAIDs, you can opt for Tylenol or Advil instead.
Or, you can take the naturopathic approach. Two very effective herbs that reduce the pain response in the body are ginger and turmeric. Some say they give superior results to the pharmaceutical alternatives.