Thinking About Getting Laser Hair Removal? Read This Before Booking Your Appointment

From how it works to where to get it done, here are the answers to everything you've been wondering about this long-lasting hair removal treatment.

The prospect of never having to shave, tweeze, or wax your body hair—or deal with painful ingrown hairs—sounds like a dream to some people. That dream could become a reality thanks to the rise of laser hair removal, a long-lasting (though more expensive) solution that many people with unwanted body hair swear by.

How does laser hair removal work?

To get to the bottom of this hairy situation, we got the lowdown from Sheel Desai Solomon, MD, a board-certified dermatologist practicing in the Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina area. She explains that unlike waxing, which uproots hairs from deep in the follicle, this hair removal process targets the dark pigment in your hair follicles, stunting the potential growth of future hair. While it's now more readily available to consumers than ever, there are a few questions to ask before going ahead.

Thinking About Getting Laser Hair Removal? Read This Before Booking Your Appointment
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Where should you get laser hair removal done—at a spa or doctor's office?

This depends on the quality of the spa, the equipment, and the training of the staff in question.

"While it's easy to find a spa or salon that offers laser hair removal, the person doing the treatment won't necessarily be qualified or licensed," Dr. Solomon says. "In fact, licensing requirements for laser hair removal providers are at the discretion of each state, and some states have no requirements at all."

For example, in the state of Virginia, "technicians who claim to be certified only have a background in cosmetology," she says "A cosmetology license will teach you about the chemistry of the hair and how it grows, but it doesn't give you the practical knowledge and experience required to ensure safety."

Although state medical boards do their best to keep up with the changing technology, the rule-making process takes time. The guidelines are often broadly drafted and don't specifically address the safety concerns of every individual treatment.

And in many cases, you can't even fault the spa owner. "It's often impossible for practitioners to find the rules that apply to them, so businesses open and offer services they shouldn't be offering," Dr. Solomon says.

What should people look for in a safe laser hair removal treatment?

A wide range of lasers can be used for hair removal, and not all have been FDA-approved. "Some are better for certain skin and hair types than others," Dr. Solomon says. "If you're insistent on going to a spa for laser hair removal, ask your facility for the name of the machine they use. Look it up on the 510(k) database on the FDA's website to be sure it's received the government's stamp of approval."

Dr. Solomon prefers that patients seek out a medical spa as opposed to a "regular spa" for laser hair removal. Look for one that's run by a doctor in one of the four core aesthetic specialties: dermatology, plastic surgery, ENT (or otolaryngology), or ophthalmology. Doctors from these core specialties are required to understand the different lasers in residency and on their board exams. "Because laser hair removal is all about choosing the right laser for your skin type, the professional performing it must also be the one to examine you and determine which laser is best," she adds.

Are there any laser hair removal risks?

Because of its popularity, you may think laser hair removal isn't a big deal, but that's not entirely true. "If done wrong, you're risking more than a nick," she says. In the worst-case scenario, "the procedure can cause disfiguring burns and permanent scars."

Though rare, the Mayo Clinic also notes that laser hair removal can cause blistering, crusting, or other changes in skin texture. According to its website, "Other rare side effects include graying of treated hair or excessive hair growth around treated areas, particularly on darker skin."

Are there any other cons to know about?

Although laser hair removal can work wonders for some, it's likely not a permanent solution. Multiple treatments are needed for initial hair removal, and this is followed by maintenance treatments in the future. It's also expensive, costing anywhere from $200–$500 per session, and it's most effective for people with light skin and dark hair.

Before going under the laser, make sure to have a frank conversation with your doctor or practitioner about the risks, equipment, and whether or not it's the right hair removal treatment for you.

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