22 Apr 2013

Laser Hair Removal: One Year On

Laser Hair Removal
(no, that's not me looking all relaxed)

Just over a year ago, I decided to take advantage of an "Unlimited small-area laser treatment" for a year (for some very reasonable price, I don't recall the details) from a clinic I'd been frequenting for a while.  A bit of a misnomer really, as I had only eight sessions during the twelve months (*more on that in a minute).  I have naturally very dark hair and light-medium skin colouring, so in theory I should qualify as highly suitable.

What did I have done

For the purpose of this review - underarm hair removal, using a laser.  IPL hair removal is a different kettle of fish, it's nowhere near as effective, it takes longer, the effects last a shorter period of time, it is not what I'm talking about here.

Does it hurt?

Yes, yes it does.  If you have alcohol before or the night before, it hurts.  If it's in a sensitive area, it hurts.  If you're a girl and it's that time of the month, boy does it hurt.  If you're dialled up to a high intensity and you haven't built up to it, it hurts.  If your practitioner is frankly not good, it really really can hurt, and it can really cause you problems in the longer term.

Is it crucifying?  No, it's tolerable.  But it's not a walk in the park either.  I've had laser on my face (thread veins - major ouch) and underarms (moderately less ouchy) now and while I am not rushing back in to have more done on my face, but I wouldn't rule it out if I needed to (let's just hope I don't need to for some time).

It stops hurting when the quick zap is done, but you can be left feeling hot and pricky and sensitive for a day or two.

Bottom line - don't kid yourself, this isn't kittens licking you or your favourite person tickling you with feathers.  Or even whacking you with the scratchier side of the feather.  Nor, as it has been described, is it like a "gentle elastic band twanging on your skin".  It is certainly less than pleasant, but equally, more than tolerable.

So what happens in a session?

You present your [insert area to be laser'd here] (underarms for me).  Some conductive (and cooling) gel is applied to said area.  It's gradually zapped, one small area at a time, by the operator.  There's a quiet bzzzzzzzst sound, a bit like an electrical spark, and an extremely short sharp shock.  After a while, the malodorous scent of ozone and overheated skin fills the air (yuck) but it all is over and done with in no time.  It used to take me longer to remove my top, get into a towel and lie on the treatment bed than it did to administer the laser treatment.  Done and dusted, the conductive gel is removed and some aloe vera gel is applied, you give it a few minutes to dry in and off you go.

Did it work?

Yes it most certainly did.  Before, I had previously rather hirsute pits.  Lovely, eh.  After the eight sessions, I think I am down to two (irritating) lone hairs, which are extremely extremely fine and barely noticeable (no, I'm not posting before-and-after pics).  I will likely have one more session to get rid of just those at some point in the future.  Either way, it has been about three months now since my last session and I haven't had to wax or sugar or thread or shave or use depilatory cream or... before: all hair... after: all gone.  No mess, no fuss, done and dusted, happy days.

How long should it last?

The hair that is targeted can grow back.  "Can" means that sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn't.  If it does, it's likely to be sparse and extremely fine, and a top-up session or two can be had every couple of years to zap the strays into submission.  I'm not at that stage yet, so I don't know.

What do you need to remember (prep & after care)
  • Make sure that you shave the area to be laser'd the night before (it really hurts if you don't).
  • Make sure that you don't wear any perfumes, perfumed body lotions, deodorants etc in the area that will be treated.
  • Absolutely and categorically no sunbathing, fake tans, tanning beds for usually a week before treatment, as this increases the melanin content in your skin.
  • Make sure that you apply aloe vera or some equivalent to the treatment area afterwards for a 24-48 hour period, and don't use any deodorants/scents/scented products. for the same timeframe.
  • No very hot showers or sports or sunbathing within 48 hours usually recommended after treatment.

*Standard enough stuff, but stuff that you may not be told in advance (I wasn't, on my first trip, and wound up having to forfeit the first appointment, hmmmm).

Would I recommend?

Most certainly.  It's not altogether pleasant, it's not dreadfully unpleasant or intolerable.  But the results speak for themselves.  Only time will tell how long said results last, but I wouldn't rule out top-up sessions if necessary.

A few things to note about laser hair removal
  • Around since 1997, laser hair removal essentially only works on where there is a contrast, so dark hair will laser away fine if you are not dark skinned.
  • It doesn't work particularly on naturally blond/lighter hair.

Both of these caveats are due to a very simple principle: light is absorbed by dark objects, so laser heat energy is absorbed by melanin in the skin.  The laser is in effect used to create localised damage to melanin in the follicle and over a few sessions, the damage becomes reasonably permanent (see How long should it last above) and the hair doesn't re-grow (it goes through a few stages of becoming less coarse, less strong and eventually, giving up the ghost altogether).

As melanin gives your hair and your skin its colour, if you are dark-skinned (and have a lot of melanin), laser hair removal can cause damage to your skin and not really effectively remove the hair at all (although newer lasers are being produced all the time which have had some success at targeting dark hair on dark skin).

Finally, even if you are in the ideal candidate group (dark, course hair and pale skin) laser simply may not work for you.


This is someone bandying about with a laser.  On you.  In the larger scheme of things, it really pays to go to a good clinic that you can 100% trust - from the perspective of training and knowledge or the operator, from the perspective of maintenance (the lasers are supposed to be checked over once every twelve months), and from the perspective of accountability (a good beautician will own up if they screw up, and fix it for you).

I had one really bad session of face lasering which left me with minor damage on my skin, for example.  And from which took me nearly a month to recover.  I genuinely regret that I didn't take action with the clinic in question.  When you think that this is about someone blasting your skin with a laser, it makes sense to be safe in the knowledge that the operator is reputable and knows what they are doing.


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