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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.

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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 hair

What Are the Side Effects of Laser Hair Removal?

It’s generally safe

If you’re tired of traditional hair removal methods, such as shaving, you may be interested in laser hair removal. Offered by a dermatologist or other qualified and trained expert, laser hair treatments work by stopping the follicles from growing new hairs. For most people, laser hair removal is safe. The procedure also isn’t linked to any long-term side effects.

Still, discussions about the side effects of laser hair removal abound. Although temporary and minor side effects can occur after the procedure, other effects are rare. Beyond that, any claims about links to your long-term health are unfounded.

Here’s what you need to know.

Minor side effects are common
Laser hair removal works by using small, high-heat lasers. The laser may cause temporary side effects immediately after the procedure. Skin irritation and pigmentation changes are the most common side effects.

Redness and irritation
Hair removal via laser can cause temporary irritation. You may also notice slight redness and swelling at the treated area. Still, these effects are minor. They are often the same effects you might notice after other types of hair removal, such as waxing.

Your dermatologist might apply a topical anesthetic before the procedure to minimize these effects.

Overall irritation should disappear within hours of the procedure. Try applying ice packs to help reduce swelling and any pain. You should call your doctor if you experience symptoms beyond slight irritation or if the side effects worsen.

Pigmentation changes
After laser treatment, you may notice slightly darker or lighter skin. If you have light skin, you’re more likely to have darker spots from laser hair removal. The opposite is true of people with dark skin, who may have lighter spots from the procedure. However, like skin irritation, these changes are temporary and aren’t usually a cause for concern.

Check out: How to treat and prevent ingrown pubic hair »

Severe side effects are rare
Rarely, laser hair removal can lead to more severe side effects. Your risk increases if you use at-home laser kits or if you seek treatment from a provider who isn’t trained and certified.

Rare side effects of laser hair removal include:

Excessive hair growth in the area of treatment: Sometimes this effect is mistaken for hair shedding after the procedure
Changes to overall skin texture: You may be at an increased risk if you have tanned recently.
Scarring: This is most common in people who tend to scar easily.
Blisters and skin crusting: These effects may be caused by sun exposure too soon after the procedure.
Discuss these side effects with your doctor. Although they’re extremely uncommon, it’s still a good idea to be aware of them. Call your doctor if you show any of these symptoms after laser hair removal.

5 Benefits of Laser Hair Removal

Hair removal is time consuming and in many cases frustrating. Traditional methods of hair removal like waxing, shaving and tweezing are effective for removing hair, but only temporarily. Laser hair removal is effective, efficient and provides a long-term solution for getting rid of unwanted hair. Laser hair removal can be performed on any part of the body that has unwanted hair.

While this method does not completely rid of hair, it does provide 50-95 percent reduction of new hair and the new hair that grows will be finer and easier to maintain. Here are five benefits of laser hair removal.

#1. Treatments Don’t Take Long
Laser hair removal treatments are much quicker than you may expect. It takes around 20 minutes to perform treatment on underarms or the bikini area and only about an hour for areas like arms and legs. Don’t expect to spend all day in the spa when having laser hair removal done – you’ll be in and out in no time.

#2. You’ll Save Money in the Long Run
When you get laser hair removal treatments done, you eliminate the need for endless amounts of razors, shaving cream, waxing appointments, etc. The cost of having laser hair removal done has decreased while the cost of waxing has increased. Laser hair removal is financially smarter, takes less time and will give you an overall longer lasting result.

#3. Eliminate Ingrown Hairs
You can prevent and eliminate ingrown hairs with laser hair removal. It is the best solution to make sure you don’t suffer from a pesky ingrown hair and risk having to have it removed. Laser hair removal is also a great option for people who have sensitive skin and have skin irritation after shaving or waxing.

#4. It Saves Time
Think about all of the times you have had to spend an extra ten or fifteen minutes in the shower shaving and then come to find you’ve missed spots and have to go back to fix it. With laser hair removal, you no longer have to spend time shaving or going to appointments to get the hair waxed. You also don’t have to worry about making mistakes and missing spots anymore. You will have clean-shaven skin without the hassle of shaving or waxing.

#5. You Don’t Need to Grow Hair Between Treatments
Unlike with waxing, you can shave in between your treatments. You no longer have to wait to grow your hair out because with laser hair removal you can shave as much as you want in between sessions.