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Everything you need to know before booking your first laser treatment, according to an expert.

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If you prefer to remove your body hair, you probably know the very real struggle of deciding on the best method. Shaving a few times a week is time-consuming (plus, razor burn is the worst), tweezing or using epilators can feel like employing a tiny torture device, and waxing can hurt like hell, especially if you have sensitive skin. The bad news? While all of these options offer quick, immediate results, none of them achieve 100% smooth, hairless skin—and it always grows back. 

Willing to invest more for fuzz-free skin? Laser hair removal might be your perfect solution. “Laser hair removal is a monochromatic beam of light that bypasses the epidermis and disables the reproductive cycle of the hair within the follicle,” Christian Karavolas, Founder of Romeo and Juliette Laser Hair Removal and President of the New York State Association of Laser Hair Removal Specialists, tells Health. Bottom line: the beam penetrates the root of the hair, thus destroying the hair follicle so it never even has a chance to grow. 

Considering going under the laser? Here’s everything you need to know about laser hair removal, according to an expert, before you make your decision.

The benefits and risks

Lasers can accurately target multiple hairs at once without damaging the surrounding skin, and the procedure is very fast, with the laser pulses lasting less than a second each. But what we’re really dying to know is this: Is laser hair removal permanent? Believe it or not, one session does, in fact, remove all the hair, and completing six sessions (spaced 6-8 weeks apart) offers long-lasting, permanent hair reduction, says Karavolas. 

While the laser works best on underarms, legs, and bikini areas—since these are non-hormonal areas where the skin is thinner and hair is thicker—it can be safely used on any body part, including places with finer hair like the face, fingers, and nipples. The ideal candidate for laser hair removal is someone with dark pigment in their body and facial hair—however, thanks to new lasers and updated technology, clients with fair skin and light hair can also expect successful results.

As for the risks, there is potential for superficial scabbing that usually resolves within two weeks, notes Karavolas. So it’s very important to do your research ahead of time and seek out a trained professional to minimize the risk of any adverse effects. Make sure the clinic you choose offers a complimentary consultation, so you can get all the information on the procedure upfront and discuss the expected results.

How to prepare for laser hair removal

Shave the area you’re having treated 1-2 days prior to laser hair removal, which will help the laser permeate the root of the hair without targeting hairs on the surface, says Karavolas. Do not wax or pluck hairs at least two weeks prior to laser hair removal, since the root needs to stay in tact in order for the laser to fully destroy the hair. And if you happen to be on your period but don’t want to miss an appointment, it’s perfectly acceptable to wear a tampon during treatment—just keep in mind that you may be more sensitive towards pain, so Karavolas does suggest waiting a few days.

What to expect during the treatment

The three most popular lasers used are Alexandrite (for light skin), NDYAG (for dark skin), and Splendor X by Lumenis—a combination laser that incorporates wavelengths from both types and is perfect for treating tanned skin—explains Karavolas. You’ll wear eye protection during the procedure, and the specialist might apply a lotion or gel to the area prior to starting to lessen the discomfort. 

The specialist will press a hand-held laser device to your skin, and each zap will last less than a second. Most agree that laser hair removal isn’t excruciatingly painful, although it can be slightly uncomfortable. Many people relate the feeling of the laser to being snapped with a rubber band (fun, right?) or a light pinch, but cold air or a cool mist of spray is applied to soothe the area throughout the process. Fortunately, the treatment is done very quickly, and many consider the pain to be much more tolerable than waxing.

Don’t workout directly afterward 

After the treatment, there may be some erythema—or skin redness—that can last anywhere from 20 minutes to a few hours, but this is perfectly normal. You can resume your daily activities within a few hours after the procedure, but Karavolas advises against working out on the same day: Your hair follicles will be very sensitive and inflamed post-treatment, and any activity that causes you to sweat could prolong irritation and even introduce bacteria into the follicle. The result? A skin rash, or worse, an infection. Yikes. Since your skin is going to be sensitive afterward, it’s also important to apply sunscreen to any treated area that will be exposed to the sun as an extra layer of protection.

Laser hair removal cost

The cost varies at different clinics, but Karavolas quotes pricing per session for the most popular areas as follows: $75 for upper lip, $75 for chin, $200 for basic bikini, $500 for full back, and $700 for full legs. You can expect the treatment of underarms to take five minutes, facial hair to take 10 minutes, a full bikini or full back to take up to 15 minutes, and full legs to take up to 20 minutes, he says. 

If you’re looking for a more affordable solution for hair removal or simply want a device to handle touch ups between professional treatments, you can actually perform laser hair removal at home thanks to a slew of safe tools. But before tackling your entire leg or the peach fuzz on your cheek with your new hand-held laser, you’ll first want to patch test a small area of skin on the inside of your arm, starting from the lowest energy level on the laser and moving to the highest. Wait 24 hours to ensure you don’t experience any adverse reactions, like tingling, discomfort, burns or swollen skin, before continuing use.

Ahead, the 5 best hair removal devices for safely and effectively performing laser hair removal at home, according to customer reviews.

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