The facts (and myths) about laser hair removal


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Waxing, tweezing, shaving, bleaching — whatever your weapon of choice, we all hate the awful chore of destroying that unwelcome hair growth. (C’mon, evolution — take the hint.) 

There’s a growing trend among both men and women who are seeking a more permanent solution to getting rid of unwanted hair: laser hair removal. And as with all cosmetic crazes, facts can get distorted. We’re here to zap the rumors.


Here’s how it’s done.

According to WebMD, laser hair removal “beams highly concentrated light into hair follicles,” and the pigment in the follicles absorbs the light, destroying the hair. Because of the precision of lasers, they can target the unwanted hair and leave surrounding skin undamaged, zapping several hairs in a fraction of a second. Sounds like a job for Dr. Evil, but it’s actually pretty safe.

There are several types of lasers. There are different wavelengths of laser energy, and facilities often have several types of machines (which is a good sign that they will choose the correct one for you). The Alexandrite, diode and nd:YAG laser are popular, and the doctor or technician can recommend what laser is best for your skin type, hair color and hair texture.


If you have dark skin, your options are more limited.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, lasers work best on “light-skinned, dark-haired individuals” because the light from lasers is not significantly absorbed by the surrounding skin. However, devices such as the nd:YAG laser have longer wavelengths and are effective in treating darker skin, and advancements are always being made. 


Laser hair removal is for permanent hair reduction, not removal.

According to the Mayo Clinic, lasers can reduce hair counts 40% to 80%. After completing initial treatments, the hair will grow back much thinner or not at all. However, “touch-ups” are often needed, which will help tackle those surviving hairs. For permanent hair removal, electrolysis — a procedure that removes each hair individually — has proven very effective.


There is a risk that the laser can affect your skin pigment. 

Skin discoloration, sometimes permanent, can occur and is one of the more serious side effects. For this reason, darker-skinned individuals are not always good candidates, and all patients should avoid tanning — even sunless tanning — before treatments. 


Getting treatment on your — ahem — lower areas will NOT affect fertility.

Because the laser is designed to target the hair follicle, it will not penetrate further than just below the skin surface, and not deep enough to affect any organs.


It’s not a very regulated procedure, so do your homework.

Dermatologists, med spas and salons can all offer laser hair removal, and there is no “official” certification. Salons tend to offer the cheapest price per session, but make sure they have several years of experience and perform laser procedures daily, or they may not be credible. Your health (and beauty) is not worth the risk!