Laser hair removal is a non-surgical, non-invasive cosmetic treatment that helps reduce undesirable hair growth from most parts of the body.

Fast Facts

  • Make sure you choose a practitioner who is qualified and has performed laser hair removal many times.
  • Women use laser to remove unwanted hair on the face or any other part of the body, including the neck, arms, underarms, legs, bottom and bikini area (Brazilian).
  • Laser hair removal is especially useful when hair has to be removed from large areas of the body, and when constant waxing may be too painful.
  • A small patch of skin will be treated first.  If no adverse effects develop within several minutes, the treatment will begin.

The technique of removing hair by laser is gentle, with minimal discomfort, so it can be used on large areas. Laser hair removal is a convenient alternative to waxing, shaving, bleaching and electrolysis and requires no downtime after treatment. It is only successful if you don’t have white or platinum blonde hair and if you choose a practitioner who is qualified and has performed laser hair removal many times.

In the US in 2011, laser hair removal was the fourth most popular minimally invasive cosmetic treatment after wrinkle relaxing injections, soft tissue fillers and chemical peels. There were more than 1.1 million laser hair removal treatments performed in the US in 2011, showing a growth rate of 15 percent from 2010. For the same period, total cosmetic surgical procedures grew by only two percent, while minimally invasive procedures grew by six percent.

Reasons for choosing to have laser hair removal

Laser hair removal works well for both women and men. It is preferred over other hair removal methods for a number of reasons, including convenience and longer-lasting results compared with shaving and waxing.

  • Women use laser to remove unwanted hair on the face or any other part of the body, including the neck, arms, underarms, legs, bottom and bikini area.
  • Men seek treatments to thin or remove unwanted hair on the back of the neck, around the ears, chest, shoulders, back, stomach and genital area.

Laser hair removal is especially useful when hair has to be removed from large areas of the body, and when constant waxing may be too painful. The best candidates for the treatment have dark hair and light skin. Lasers beams are not effective with white hair and are minimally effective on blonde hair. Most lasers work on people with brown skin, but only one such laser is effective for those with black skin. If the correct laser is not used, dark skin spots (hyperpigmentation) and lumpy scar tissue called keloids will eventuate.

Some people describe their laser hair removal experience as painless, while others describe it as mildly uncomfortable. It can benefit anyone of any age as long as hair isn’t white or platinum blonde.

What to expect

Immediately before treatment, hair in the targeted area will be trimmed to a length of a few millimetres above the surface of the skin. The practitioner or technician will adjust the laser equipment according to the colour and thickness of hair, skin colour, and the treatment location.

Cold gel or a cooling device will be used to protect the outer layers of the skin from the laser beams.

A small patch of skin will be treated first. If no adverse effects develop within several minutes, the treatment will begin.

A laser or ray of pulsed light energy is used to destroy hair at its root without destroying the hair follicle. When the laser is directed at hair strands, it travels down the hair shaft to the follicle, which contains the hair root.

Treatment sessions can range between five minutes and an hour, depending on the area needing treatment. If there is pain or discomfort, inform your practitioner and you will be provided with a method of relief. If you feel discomfort after the procedure, the application of water, aloe gel, ice packs or anti-inflammatory lotion or cream may bring relief.

Do not expect the hair to fall out immediately during or after a laser treatment. The hair strands usually weaken and fall out over time. Repeat treatments—typically four to six sessions—will be necessary until hair growth stops. There should be a four to six week waiting time between sessions. Most people experience permanent hair loss after three to five sessions. Repeat sessions may be necessary every six months or annually as part of a maintenance plan.

Newer laser tools used in hair removal have a suction mechanism which helps pull hair so the laser beam can penetrate deeper into the follicle with improved effect.

Before and after laser hair removal

Laser hair removal is a medical treatment requiring training and skill, and carries potential risks. It is essential to check the credentials of the practitioner or technician who is to provide you with the treatment.

Waxing and plucking remove the hair roots, which are the target of the laser treatment. In preparation for treatment and for best results, avoid any waxing, plucking and electrolysis at least six weeks prior to treatment. If you need to minimise the appearance of hair in the area to be treated, you should do so only by shaving.

Laser treatments will be best if your skin tone, compared to the colour of your hair, is the lightest possible shade at the time of treatment. Avoid tanning or unprotected sun exposure for several weeks before the treatment date. Wear sunscreen during this period, and replenish before sun exposure. Not heeding this advice may lead to complications after treatment. To improve the results, your practitioner may prescribe a skin bleaching cream to be used before the procedure.

Tell your practitioner in advance if you or anyone in your family has hormonal conditions that may complicate the treatment. You also need to disclose if you have the herpes virus infection, especially in the treatment area.

Find a practitioner who has a good record and vast experience with laser hair removal treatments, and then follow his or her pre- and post-treatment instructions to the letter.

After the treatment

The treated skin may feel and look sunburned. Moisturisers and cool compresses can help relieve any discomfort. In the unlikely situation where blistering occurs, avoid applying makeup.

The hair in the treated area will fall out gradually over the next month to six weeks. To prevent discolouration in the treated area, you must wear sunscreen whenever you are exposed to the sun, especially in the six weeks following any treatment.

Possible risks and complications

Laser hair removal is only effective for some people. Even then, the type of laser must be chosen carefully to suit skin colour and type. The wrong type of laser can result in scar tissue formation and development of dark skin spots on some people. People with black skin are particularly vulnerable to these effects.

Laser hair removal may result in temporary and permanent side effects. Some, though temporary in nature, may last days, weeks or even months.

Here are some of the more temporary side effects you may encounter:

  • Pain or discomfort may occur during as well as after the treatment. People report the sensation to be less than or no greater than that associated with waxing.

Usually a topical anaesthetic can be used during the treatment to alleviate pain or any discomfort you may feel. Ask for pain relief medication if you need it.

  • Swelling may occur at or around the treated area. Swelling tends to be worse on some parts of the body than on others.
  • Redness can occur after laser hair removal treatments and is to be expected. It can be unsightly if the treatment area is prominent, like the top of the lips. Consult your practitioner before the procedure about what to apply in case of redness and swelling.
  • Blistering can be one of the more painful and embarrassing temporary side effects of laser hair removal. People with dark complexions are more prone to blistering after treatment.
  • Dark skin spots (hyperpigmentation) at or around the treatment area does not have an easy solutions. You have no alternative than to wait for them to disappear. A risk of laser hair removal procedure is that it may leave you with long-term or permanent damage to the skin.
  • Skin discolouration may occur as a result of laser beams damaging dark skin in the area immediately surrounding the removed hair.

Although physically painless, discolouration is sometimes prominent and may cause anxiety.

  • Scarring, although possible in every treatment, usually occurs if the practitioner is inexperienced. Accidental overtreatment is a possibility. Incorrect settings for skin colour or type, or the incorrect application of the laser beams may result in scar tissue formation.
  • Burns, although rare, are painful, and before undergoing treatment you need to be prepared for this potential risk.

To avoid unnecessary risks and complications and to get the best possible results, use the services of an experienced and qualified professional such as a cosmetic physician or a dermatologist. Make sure that your practitioner or technician has ample experience in this treatment. While a beauty therapist can perform laser hair removal, it is safer to choose a facility where the treatment is supervised by a medical professional who will also know how to treat you in case of burns and accidental overtreatment.

Rough costs involved

The average price range for each treatment session will be $50 – $500 (AUD) for each treated area.

You should expect the costs to be higher if you are having combined treatments at the same time.

This information is correct as of 2019.

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