Buyer Beware: The Facts About Laser Hair Removal
Buyer Beware: The Facts About Laser Hair Removal
If you’re considering laser hair removal, consider this: It’s not always a sure thing. “Hair removal lasers aren’t like point-and-shoot cameras,” says Roy Geronemus, MD, clinical professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center. The results can be great, but if you’re treated with the wrong laser or if it’s on the wrong setting, you won’t get the maximum hair reduction (there’s no such thing as total removal). And you might end up with burns, hyperpigmentation, even increased hair growth (this phenomenon may be seen in darker-skinned women who are being treated on the face, but the risk can be reduced by using a longer-wavelength laser). Many state medical boards allow nonphysicians to use lasers, and there’s little oversight of the many aestheticians performing treatments. For the most reliable results, see a dermatologist (who will charge you an average of $500 for one treatment). But wherever you go—a derm, a medispa, a gynecologist—be sure to ask these questions before “Where do I sign?”
1. How many lasers are on the premises, and are they rented or owned? The more lasers a doctor or medispa has access to, the greater the likelihood you’ll be treated with the safest, most effective one for your skin color and hair type. Be wary if machines are rented: Chances are the outfit is doing only a few procedures a month.
2. What lasers do you use for hair removal, which one is best for my skin, and why? The doctor or technician should be able to articulate why a particular laser is the best match for you (taking into account your skin tone, hair texture, and color) and any potential complications. Geronemus, whose practice owns more than 50 lasers, uses the alexandrite laser for hair removal most often; the diode and nd:Yag lasers are particularly effective as well. Intense pulsed light machines can also remove hair, but only on light skin, and the quality of those machines can vary.
3. How many laser hair removal treatments have you performed? There’s no standard “laser hair removal certification,” so this is the best way to gauge a person’s experience level. The answer should be at least a few hundred.
4. How many sessions will I need? The average number of visits necessary to see permanent hair reduction is four to six—but some people respond well in two sessions, and others need a dozen. That is why a “package deal” offered for laser hair removal is often more advantageous for the doctor or technician than for the patient.
5. Can you treat me if I have a tan? If the answer is yes, head the other way. “The only way to treat tanned skin without causing burns is to use such low settings that treatment wouldn’t be effective,” says Ranella Hirsch, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Boston University School of Medicine.
HOW WILL MY SKIN LOOK?
The skin will have multiple millimetre trauma marks to the skin’s surface, and as healing occurs the skin will appear dry and flaky. In the first couple of days, redness and swelling will be present. Every individual will vary, others may have more swelling, whereas some may swell for over a week. Pigmentation from the small marks can be present for longer if the scabs come away earlier than expected, for example when lying on one side of the face whilst sleeping.
WHAT ARE THE SIDE EFFECTS AND RISKS INVOLVED?
Tenderness, redness and swelling are common side effects and are to be expected following the treatment. As the skin starts to heal, itching may occur. After care gel that is included in the price of the treatment, should be used to alleviate the side effects. Other side effects are not limited to, but may include slight redness for a few weeks after the treatment, with a risk of scarring, infection and hyperpigmentation (darker skin) or hypopigmentation (lighter skin), being rare but possible.
ARE THERE ANY SPECIFIC AFTER CARE TIPS?
You will be required to stay out of direct sun light during the healing process. Whilst the scabs are still present you won’t be able to get the areas wet such as having a shower, steam room, swimming or sweating from exercising.
HOW DO I PREPARE FOR THE PROCEDURE?
It is important to have a test patch prior to the treatment. No active sun exposure is important with no active tan being present for the test patch and treatment. We suggest not to apply any cosmetics beforehand, and you should let us know about any recent medical conditions and medications taken.
IS THERE ANYTHING I SHOULD DO AFTER THE TREATMENT?
We advise that you don’t take a hot shower on the day of the treatment, and to keep the area dry for the duration of the scabs being present. It is advised that you don’t apply make-up to the area for the duration of the scabs, as attempting to remove the makeup at the end of the day, can cause the microscabs to come away from the skin too early and cause scarring. Sun exposure should be avoided for 4 weeks after the treatment, sunblock application is highly recommended for 4 to 6 weeks after the initial treatment.