You and me, baby, ain't nothin' but mammals… so that means we have body hair. Yup — we're all a little furry and while that's totally OK and natural, some folks aren't really about that life. See, humans are a very special kind of mammal: While others may freely bask in what mother nature gave them, some of us would prefer if she wasn't so generous with some of her gifts.
So, we come up with solutions. And in the case of body hair, we've invented technology that can help us keep all that extra fuzz to a minimum. Enter: laser hair removal. How does it work? Science, baby. "Lasers target the hair at the bulb. It is the pigment in the hair that works as the 'target,'" explains Long Island, New York-based board-certified dermatologist Kavita Mariwalla. The process, as Hamptons-based board-certified dermatologist Kenneth Mark explains, happens through a process called selective photothermolysis. "The energy from the laser is selectively absorbed by various pigments, depending on the wavelength of the laser." In short, the laser light searches for the darker pigment of the hair follicle, locks onto it, and eliminates it.
It's important to remember, due to the nature of lasers, that it's best to get this type of hair removal from a dermatologist's office. Each of the experts we asked stress this. But before you make an appointment, it's important you get the full tea on how lasers work, and, importantly, who they work best for.
Let our dermatologist buddies guide you. Here are a few things you need to know before going under the light.
1) Laser Removal Works Faster on Some Areas Than Others
Grosse Point, Michigan-based dermatologist Shauna Diggs confirms to Allure that you can get lasered pretty much anywhere where there is hair, however, there are parts of your body on which the lasering process works faster. "The most popular areas for treatment are the face, underarms, bikini area, and lower legs," Diggs shares. "In studies, the underarms often respond the fastest, in part because it's the fairest area with the least sun exposure and has darker hair."
That said, the overall consensus from the dermatologists we spoke to is that if there's hair on it, you can laser it off, though for some people, depending on the pigment of their hair or skin, it may take a bit more effort.
2) Don't Expect Instant Results
This isn't a one-and-done deal, folks. If you're looking to eliminate the hair in a certain part of your body, it's going to take a few visits to the dermatologist (and there's no guarantee that it'll be gone forever, but more on that later). Diggs says it takes about six to eight sessions to get rid of at least 90 percent of the hair in an area. "The number of sessions that are needed can also vary depending on the location being treated," Diggs notes. "The body really wants to have hair in certain areas, such the vulva in the bikini area, so more sessions might be needed to this specific area." Keep in mind that the lasering sessions must also be spaced out: Toronto-based board-certified dermatologist Geeta Yadav suggests every six to eight weeks.
Tracy Evans, a San Francisco-based board-certified dermatologist explains why some parts of the skin may need a little more laser love than others: "Skin with many hormonal receptors, such as the groin and beard area, can take many more treatments," Evans says. "In areas where the hair is finer (thinner), the hairs are more difficult to target, so they require more treatments. If the patient has a skin color that is close to their hair color, it can also take more treatments."
Another important thing to keep in mind is that hair grows on the body at different times. "Facial hair is spaced three to four weeks while body hair is four to eight," explains New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Diane Madfes. "It takes anywhere from three to eight sessions and possible yearly maintenance."
3) It Works Just About Anywhere on Your Body
If a spot on your body has hair on it that the lasers can pick up, you can treat it. That includes your nipples, chest, or stomach. As Mark says, it's less about the area and "more about hair color and background skin."
4) But It's Not for Everyone
That also brings up the very important issue: Laser hair removal ain't for everybody. "Those with dark, thick hair and light skin are the best candidates for laser," shares Mariwalla. "However, you can do laser hair removal if you have skin of color, so long as the right wavelength of the laser is used." Natural blondes, this also concerns you: "The technology has not evolved enough to get good results for blonde, gray, or red hair," says Mariwalla, though she also reassures us that there are people working on updating the technology so that all people can use this service. The issue with lighter hair colors is that "there is not enough pigment to absorb the laser energy and damage the hair follicle," as Bruce Katz, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City explains.
If you're someone whose skin is a bit more melanin-rich, you're going to have to do a little research into what kind of laser the dermatologist is using. Corey L. Hartman, a board-certified dermatologist based in Birmingham, Alabama, says that there is only one laser that works effectively on dark skin and that is the 1064nm Nd:YAG laser. "This laser is selective for the pigment in the hair and bypasses the pigment in the skin so that there is no blistering or scarring associated with the procedure," he explains. "Remember, hair removal is advanced laser surgery and the operator of the device is just as important as selecting the appropriate laser."
It's more than just about using a laser that actually removes the hair on darker skin tones. It's also about minimizing any adverse effects that may pop up. "The heat associated with laser hair removal can trigger hyperpigmentation in dark skin, especially if there is inflammation that persists longer than a few minutes following the treatment," Hartman says. "The correct device will also have a cooling apparatus that delivers a blast of cold air milliseconds after the pulse of the laser to cool the skin and prevent discoloration."
5) How Much Does It Cost?
How much you'll shell out for your treatments depends on what you're getting lasered, where you're getting lasered, and what types of tools the dermatologist is using. Some of the estimates we got are around $200 to $400 per session.
6) It's Not a Year-Round Thing
Lasers ain't nothing to play with, which is why dermatologists say it's best to get the procedures done at a time when your body isn't exposed to a ton of sunlight. "Whenever your skin color is the lightest is the best time to get laser hair removal, and this is the wintertime for most people," says Diggs. "Since the laser targets melanin pigment in the hair follicle, it can also target melanin pigment in the skin."
If you just went on vacation and got a cute little tan, you're going to want to postpone that lasering treatment.
7) What About At-Home Lasers?
If you're the adventurous DIY type, there's also the option of doing laser hair removal at home with a tool. Of course, the tools aren't as powerful as what you may find in a dermatologist's office. But, as Mark and most of the other dermatologists we asked advise, your best bet is to get it done by a medical professional. "I highly recommend doing this at the dermatologist's office," Mark stresses. "The key to any procedure is knowing how to manage any complications that may occur. The dermatologist is the expert in skin and best suited to minimize and manage any potential risks."
Hartman also warns folks with darker skin to leave the at-home lasers alone. "Dark skin should exert the most caution with lasers in general, but especially without supervision because they can [make hyperpigmentation worse.]"
8) Total, Forever Hairlessness Is Not Guaranteed
Nothing in life is guaranteed, and that includes laser hair removal. "When [the treatment] was approved, the definition of 'permanent hair removal' was defined as a significant reduction of hair in the treated area," says Marks. “Not 'all treated hair is gone forever.'" As we mentioned before, we're mammals — we grow hair! So you may find some errant strands pop up in between sessions, or experience some new growth well after your sessions are all completed. If it's really bothering you, use a razor.
"The laser only treats the hair that you have today, not the hair that you grow later, so that is why additional sessions over the years are good," explains Diggs. "Also, hormonal changes can often cause additional hair growth and should be managed to keep the hair away, such as in PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) or peri-menopause."
9) What If You've Got Sensitive Skin?
So, your skin reacts to everything. Don't worry, you can still probably get lasered, but as Claire Wolinsky, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City notes, it's important to do the work to make sure that the lasers won't irritate your skin. "A test spot is particularly prudent for patients with sensitive skin," she advises. "Reducing the energy [the laser uses] in sensitive patients may be necessary without compromising the benefit, especially in the beginning sessions when the hair density is greater."
10) Prepping for Your Session
You've done your research, confirmed that you qualify, and have booked your first appointment. Before you step into that office, take stock of what's going on with your body. Are you menstruating? Yadav suggests putting off the treatment until after your period or before the next one. "The body can be more sensitive to pain during this time," Yadav says. She also advises avoiding caffeine before your appointment for the same reason. "Try drinking a lot of water [the day of your session] and taking an over-the-counter pain reliever about 45 minutes before to help reduce any sensitivity," she elaborates.
Also, pay attention to what you're wearing the day of. "If you're getting treated in an area that's usually covered by clothing, wear or bring very loose clothing to your session to avoid any irritation caused by garments rubbing the skin," Yadav advises. "And don't forget to ask your provider for some cortisone cream for some topical relief."
11) A Note on Aftercare
What you do after a laser session is important, too. The dermatologists we asked all agree that sunscreen is a crucial component to taking care of your skin afterward. "It's important after a laser hair treatment to protect from sun exposure and use a mild soothing topical cream," says Madfes. She suggests using an over-the-counter cortisone or an aloe-based product for this "Topicals with aloe, turmeric, squalene, and hyaluronic acid are beneficial ingredients to use," she says. Madfes also notes that some people may temporarily heal darker a first.
Oh, and that sun protection note also goes for the melanin-rich, too. "The skin is more vulnerable to ultraviolet and visible light immediately after treatment," explains Hartman. "If there is a prolonged period of redness or skin irritation following the treatment, consider a mild topical corticosteroid cream to reduce inflammation quickly so that the risk of hyperpigmentation is diminished."
If you notice your skin feels a little irritated after a session, don't panic. "Swelling around the hair follicles is completely normal post-laser, but if extensive, this can be uncomfortable and itchy," says Wolinsky. "Hydrocortisone cream can be applied immediately after to soothe the skin if irritated." Also, make sure your dermatologist is using a cooling jelly during the session to keep your skin from overheating.
Read original article here.