Tune In: A Pro Explains What To Know About Laser Hair Removal
To some, laser hair removal may seem like an unnecessary beauty treatment. But for others, it can be a complete game changer in helping folks feel better in their skin.
As Christian Karavolas (vice president of the Society of Clinical and Medical Hair Removal and founder of Romeo & Juliette) and I discuss in this week's Clean Beauty School, laser hair removal can benefit a wide range of folks. This includes but is not limited to folks who get razor burn, those who experience in-growns and scarring (particularly notable for those with dark skin tones), athletes (both male and female) who feels it inhibits their performance, those dealing with unwanted growth due to hormonal imbalances, those transitioning, and so on.
Plus, "laser hair removal is the most advanced it's ever been. We have new lasers that are faster, less painful, and work for more skin tones," he says. So if it's something you've been curious about, definitely tune in. Here, three things to know before getting started.
Find one for your skin tone.
Laser hair removal works by targeting the pigment in the hair follicles, "and once the follicle gets disabled, it eventually doesn't grow back anymore," Karavolas says. Because the laser itself is targeting the melanin, it's essential that the right laser is used for the patient's skin tone.
"There are many kinds of lasers," he says, noting that those with dark skin tones should most likely use one called Nd:YAG, which is a long-pulse wavelength. "It's very good for skin of color because it bypasses the epidermis, so it doesn't damage the skin, but it gets rid of the hair." For those with lighter skin tones, a short-pulse laser called Alexandrite will be used.
He also notes that at this time, laser hair removal cannot target light hair color, such as blonde or light red (since the laser targets the pigment in the hair). However, new options are in the works that will be able to do it in the future ("We're about two years away from that," he says).
Know your pre- and post-care.
Karavolas notes that your first step should always be to go in for a consultation, where they'll ideally give you a rundown of how to take care of your skin before and after. However, it's always good to know basic care instructions regardless.
The most important to note? "Stop any medicine that creates sensitivity to light or heat, such as antibiotics, Accutane, or topical retinol," he says, noting that this should be done a week prior. However, always consult your doctor before stopping any medication—if it means you need to wait to start your hair removal process, then so be it.
After, "there's hardly any downtime involved. The redness and bumps go away in about 10 to 20 minutes, and we typically will use a soothing cream with something like vitamin K," he says. "Then they can go do their normal activity. We do ask them not to exercise for about 24 hours—and at the very least definitely not the night of, as sweating can trigger irritation."
Be prepared for multiple sessions.
Every body, area of the body, and experience is different, so there's no universally set amount of sessions. But a good average, says Karavolas, is six sessions spaced six to eight weeks apart.
However, lots of factors will influence this. "Hormonal areas—the chin, upper lips, and sideburns—will require more sessions, usually between eight to 12," he says. "Or if someone has a hormonal imbalance, such as PCOS, they will likely need more sessions." Other things to consider: If you're taking certain medications that can influence your hormones.
Another thing he says he sees commonly: "Some clients are on medications, treatments, or supplements that stimulate hair growth, so that usually means it may take a few more sessions." He also notes that for many patients, it may require upkeep—and so folks will come in for touch-ups throughout the years.
Thinking about laser hair removal in any form? Tune in for a full episode of tips and intel.
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.