Laser hair removal - Mayo Clinic (2024)

Overview

Laser hair removal is a medical procedure that uses a concentrated beam of light (laser) to remove unwanted hair.

During laser hair removal, a laser emits a light that is absorbed by the pigment (melanin) in the hair. The light energy is converted to heat, which damages the tube-shaped sacs within the skin (hair follicles) that produce hairs. This damage inhibits or delays future hair growth.

Although laser hair removal effectively delays hair growth for long periods, it usually doesn't result in permanent hair removal. Multiple laser hair removal treatments are needed for initial hair removal, and maintenance treatments might be needed as well. Laser hair removal is most effective for people who have light skin and dark hair, but it can be successfully used on all skin types.

Why it's done

Laser hair removal is used to reduce unwanted hair. Common treatment locations include legs, armpits, upper lip, chin and the bikini line. However, it's possible to treat unwanted hair in nearly any area, except the eyelid or surrounding area. Skin with tattoos should not be treated either.

Hair color and skin type influence the success of laser hair removal. The basic principle is that the pigment of the hair, but not the pigment of the skin, should absorb the light. The laser should damage only the hair follicle while avoiding damage to the skin. Therefore, a contrast between hair and skin color — dark hair and light skin — results in the best outcomes.

The risk of damage to skin is greater when there is little contrast between hair and skin color, but advances in laser technology have made laser hair removal an option for people who have darker skin. Laser hair removal is less effective for hair colors that don't absorb light well: gray, red, blond and white. However, laser treatment options for light-colored hair continue to be developed.

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Risks

Risks of side effects vary with skin type, hair color, treatment plan and adherence to pre-treatment and post-treatment care. The most common side effects of laser hair removal include:

  • Skin irritation. Temporary discomfort, redness and swelling are possible after laser hair removal. Any signs and symptoms typically disappear within several hours.
  • Pigment changes. Laser hair removal might darken or lighten the affected skin. These changes might be temporary or permanent. Skin lightening primarily affects those who don't avoid sun exposure before or after treatment and those who have darker skin.

Rarely, laser hair removal can cause blistering, crusting, scarring or other changes in skin texture. Other rare side effects include graying of treated hair or excessive hair growth around treated areas, particularly on darker skin.

Laser hair removal isn't recommended for eyelids, eyebrows or surrounding areas, due to the possibility of severe eye injury.

How you prepare

If you're interested in laser hair removal, choose a doctor who's board certified in a specialty such as dermatology or cosmetic surgery and has experience with laser hair removal on your skin type. If a physician assistant or licensed nurse will do the procedure, make sure a doctor supervises and is available on-site during the treatments. Be cautious about spas, salons or other facilities that allow nonmedical personnel to do laser hair removal.

Before laser hair removal, schedule a consultation with the doctor to determine if this is an appropriate treatment option for you. Your doctor will likely do the following:

  • Review your medical history, including medication use, history of skin disorders or scarring, and past hair removal procedures
  • Discuss risks, benefits and expectations, including what laser hair removal can and can't do for you
  • Take photos to be used for before-and-after assessments and long-term reviews

At the consultation, discuss a treatment plan and related costs. Laser hair removal is usually an out-of-pocket expense.

The doctor will also offer specific instructions to prepare for laser hair removal. These might include:

  • Staying out of the sun. Follow your doctor's advice for avoiding sun exposure before and after treatment. Whenever you go out, apply a broad-spectrum, SPF30 sunscreen.
  • Lightening your skin. Avoid any sunless skin creams that darken your skin. Your doctor might also prescribe a skin bleaching cream if you have a recent tan or darker skin.
  • Avoiding other hair removal methods. Plucking, waxing and electrolysis can disturb the hair follicle and should be avoided at least four weeks before treatment.
  • Avoiding blood-thinning medications. Ask your doctor about what medications, such as aspirin or anti-inflammatory drugs, to avoid before the procedure.
  • Shaving treatment area. Trimming and shaving is recommended the day before laser treatment. It removes hair above the skin that can result in surface skin damage from burnt hairs, but it leaves the hair shaft intact below the surface.

What you can expect

Laser hair removal usually requires two to six treatments. The interval between treatments will vary depending on the location. On areas where hair grows quickly, such as the upper lip, the treatment might be repeated in four to eight weeks. On areas of slow hair growth, such as the back, the treatment might be every 12 to 16 weeks.

For each treatment you'll wear special goggles to protect your eyes from the laser beam. An assistant might shave the site again if necessary. The doctor might apply a topical anesthetic to your skin to reduce any discomfort during treatment.

During the procedure

The doctor will press a hand-held laser instrument to your skin. Depending on the type of laser, a cooling device on the tip of the instrument or a cool gel might be used to protect your skin and lessen the risk of side effects.

When the doctor activates the laser, the laser beam will pass through your skin to the hair follicles. The intense heat from the laser beam damages the hair follicles, which inhibits hair growth. You might feel discomfort, such as a warm pinprick, and you'll likely feel a sensation of cold from the cooling device or gel.

Treating a small area, such as the upper lip, might take only a few minutes. Treating a larger area, such as the back, might take more than an hour.

After the procedure

You might notice redness and swelling for the first few hours after laser hair removal.

To reduce any discomfort, apply ice to the treated area. If you have a skin reaction immediately after laser hair removal, the doctor might apply a steroid cream to the affected area.

After laser hair removal and between scheduled treatments, avoid sunlight and don't use a tanning bed for six weeks or as directed by your doctor. Use a broad-spectrum SPF30 sunscreen daily.

Results

Hairs do not fall out immediately, but you will shed them over a period of days to weeks. This may look like continued hair growth. The repeated treatments are usually necessary because hair growth and loss naturally occur in a cycle, and laser treatment works best with hair follicles in the new-growth stage.

Results vary significantly and are difficult to predict. Most people experience hair removal that lasts several months, and it might last for years. But laser hair removal doesn't guarantee permanent hair removal. When hair regrows, it's usually finer and lighter in color.

You might need maintenance laser treatments for long-term hair reduction.

What about home lasers?

Lasers that can be used at home for hair removal are available. These devices might cause modest hair reduction. But there are no large studies comparing how effective these devices are compared with laser hair removal done at a doctor's office.

Additionally, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers these home laser hair removal devices to be cosmetic, not medical, which means they don't get the same level of scrutiny as other medical devices. Currently, there haven't been large, long-term studies on how safe and effective the home machines are.

If you choose to use a home laser hair removal device, follow the instructions that come with the device to help reduce the risk of injury, especially eye injuries.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Laser hair removal - Mayo Clinic (2024)

FAQs

What no one tells you about laser hair removal? ›

It does not eliminate hair, it REDUCES hair

A common misconception is that laser hair removal is a permanent solution, but the reality is that its a semi-permanent solution. You can expect up to a 90% reduction in hair growth and thickness, to the point where you won't need to shave as much.

What are realistic expectations for laser hair removal? ›

The results vary from patient to patient. The color and thickness of your hair, area treated, type of laser used, and color of your skin all affect the results. You can expect a 10% to 25% reduction in hair after the first treatment. To remove the hair, most patients need 2 to 6 laser treatments.

What are the concerns with laser hair removal? ›

Risks
  • Skin irritation. Temporary discomfort, redness and swelling are possible after laser hair removal. Any signs and symptoms typically disappear within several hours.
  • Pigment changes. Laser hair removal might darken or lighten the affected skin. These changes might be temporary or permanent.
Mar 13, 2024

Does laser not work on some people? ›

It's extremely rare that laser doesn't work. Although it's known that while for some patients minimal amount of sessions are sufficient for others double the amount may be needed. This can even be the case with your own body, where one area will respond a lot quicker while other prove to be more stubborn.

Do people ever regret laser hair removal? ›

But, as with any treatment that ends with more or less permanent results, not everyone is pleased with their decision. While some feel freedom after banishing all the hair on their bodies for good, others express deep regret — especially given how the conversation around body hair has shifted in recent years.

Who should not get laser hair removal? ›

Tanned skin increases the risk of complications such as burns, scarring and pigmentation. Patient who have a history of keloid scarring. Patient who take antibiotics, especially those on Roaccutane. Patient with certain auto-immune disorders such as Lupus.

What makes you a bad candidate for laser hair removal? ›

Blond, fine hairs cannot be targeted by the lasers and therefore, cannot be removed with this method. Waxing is a better choice for light colored hair. Individuals with darker skin tones or who tan easily, may have a harder time getting results from laser hair removal.

Should I laser my pubic hair? ›

' Yes, it is safe to laser the pubic area for most patients. It should be noted that this is one of the more sensitive areas when it comes to laser hair removal, but it is quick and effective. Many patients also believe it is overall less painful than waxing.

What happens if I stop laser hair removal after 4 sessions? ›

If treatment is stopped before all of the hair follicles have been destroyed, some may continue to grow. It is important to complete the recommended treatment plan to achieve the best results. Sometimes, the patient sees hairs are thicker and darker after the treatment when they have original light and fair hair.

Which is better electrolysis or laser? ›

Electrolysis is considered a more permanent solution than laser hair removal (it stops hair growth completely while laser hair removal slows and reduces hair growth), but it requires more individual sessions (closer to 14), and the sessions can take longer. You might not see full results for nearly 18 months.

How do I stop my pubic hair from growing permanently? ›

Electrolysis is your best option for permanent hair removal, but it can be expensive. For more permanent results, laser hair removal can also help you remove pubic hair for a hefty price. You can also opt to do occasional grooming with trimming or tweezing to avoid going completely bare.

How do you get rid of facial hair permanently? ›

Electrolysis can permanently remove unwanted hair. Once your hair is gone, you won't need maintenance treatments. It works on all hair types, including light-colored hairs, which lasers cannot remove.

What are 2 drawbacks of laser therapy? ›

Laser therapy can result in misdirected or excessively intense burns, bleeding from the choriocapillaris, damage to macular and other ocular structures, and breaks in Bruch's membrane.

Why did laser hair removal not work for me? ›

While laser hair removal has proven to be a highly effective and popular method for reducing unwanted hair, it may not work equally well for everyone. Factors such as hair color, skin type, hormonal imbalances, and individual characteristics can influence the outcome of the treatment.

Why didn't my laser work? ›

One of the top reasons why Laser hair removal doesn't work boils down to hormones. Yes, believe it or not hormonal conditions can lead to ineffective hair removal. Our hormones encourage hair growth with the most common one being testosterone.

Are laser hair removal worth it? ›

If you're not happy with shaving, tweezing, or waxing to remove unwanted hair, laser hair removal may be an option worth considering. Laser hair removal is one of the most commonly done cosmetic procedures in the U.S. It beams highly concentrated light into hair follicles.

Why do I look hairier after laser hair removal? ›

The appearance of increased hair growth after laser hair removal can be concerning, but it's important to understand that this is a normal part of the treatment process. Hair shedding, hair growth cycles, and misconceptions about hair growth can all contribute to the perception of increased hairiness.

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