What to Know: Laser Hair Removal

As a woman of Italian descent, my battle against HAIR is never-ending. So, it only makes sense that after years of shaving, threading and waxing my body into submission, I'm finally considering a more permanent solution to my hair woes - namely, Laser Hair Removal.

Now, admittedly, I'm starting small - literally - and going for fuzz-free underarms first, with my second of six sessions scheduled at Pulse Laser and Skincare Center for next week.

At my first appointment, I spent some time INTERROGATING my aesthetician Jen on Laser Hair Removal, and it was a conversation full of REVELATIONS. In short, for such a common procedure, I knew astonishingly little about things. So, I asked Jen to do me a favor and pull together some FAQ for the average gal to ask during a laser consultation, or prior to buying your next Groupon (I know...those group buying sites are so tempting!)

Read on for the deets:

Who is performing your service?

Rules will differ from state to state, but it's important to know the training of the people who will be giving you your treatments. Are they licensed estheticians who learned machine buttonology only, are they laser technicians who know machinery but not skincare? Ideally, the person who is performing your service should be a combination of both- they should be licensed to practice skincare in their state, and have attended extra hours of school to know the science behind lasers (or be an RN or doctor).

What lasers are they using?

As a general rule, run, don't walk, from places that are using IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) on clients for hair removal services. IPL Machines are NOT lasers. They are more like flash-lamps that emit a broad band width of light, and they don't have the proper power or light waves to efficiently kill the follicle. What you SHOULD be looking for is a laser- either an Alexandrite laser for light skintones, or a YAG laser for tanned or darker skintones. With these two types of lasers you can accurately target and kill the hair follicle on all skin tones, ranging from light to dark.

How do you know the difference between IPL and Laser?

Typically, IPL machines require the use of a cold gel, and have a square or rectangular handpiece that is placed on the skin. However, in order to make sure you know what you're purchasing, take advantage of a free consultation, meet with your technicians, and ASK QUESTIONS! Get pamphlets about their machines, and then go home and do your research! Look at reviews on Google, Yelp(by the by, you can check out Pulse Laser and Skincare Center's reviews here) or Citysearch as they are usually indicative of service.

What can laser hair removal realistically do for you?

Lasers CAN effectively and permanently kill darkly pigmented hair follicles on virtually any area of the body. There are certain body parts that will respond better than others, and some shades of hair are not suitable. Hair that responds best is dark and coarse. Lasers can't "see" blonde, white, and some shades of red hair well enough to kill them, so for those hair types, laser likely isn't an option.

Why do I need so many sessions?

How many sessions an individual will need varies from person to person, but the general standard is a minimum of six (6) sessions. Certain areas can require more, such as the upper lip or chin. If you are dealing with a hormonal issue such as Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome or a thyroid condition or are taking medications that promote hair growth, you will need more than six sessions. The reason why you need multiple sessions when getting laser is because the hair has three growth cycles. The stage that the laser is most effective in killing the hair is the "anagen" or active growth phase, where the bulb of the root is connected to the blood supply. Not all of your hair is in the same phase at the same time, so as it cycles through the phases (every 4 weeks for the face, and 6+ weeks for areas below the neck) you come in for another treatment to tackle another active cycle.

How should I prepare?

Your laser center should tell you how to prepare pre-laser, but to start:

  • Shave a day or two before your treatment. Lasers are focusing their light beneath the surface of the skin, so there does not need to be any hair on the surface- it will only interfere with your treatment.
  • Come free of any lotions or deodorants. You don't want to have anything on the surface of the skin- this means no self tanner either!
  • Take an Advil an hour or before your treatment.
  • Numbing the area with an anesthetic cream is also an option. Try something with 4%-5% lidocaine about an hour before the time of your treatment.

What should I NOT do?

  • Don't come in with self-tanner or an active tan from the sun or tanning bed. Lasers are seeking out the melanin in your hair. If you have an active tan, the melanin in your skin will compete with that, and could get picked up, resulting in an adverse reaction. Self tanner stimulates melanin on the surface of the skin, so this is why it counts as well. You need a minimum of 2 weeks out of the sun or tanning bed for treatment on a YAG laser, and 4-6 weeks out of the sun for treatment on an Alexandrite laser.
  • Please don't go to a treatment when you are taking antibiotics. Many antibiotics make you light sensitive, and lasers are intense wavelengths of light. You need to be off of antibiotics for 14 days before getting a laser treatment. Don't get any sun exposure on the area you've had lasers for 2 weeks. In addition, lasers make you light sensitive, and going into the sun soon after a treatment can result in pigmentation. It's not permanent, but can be unsightly.
  • Please don't wax, thread or pluck the hair for 4 weeks prior to your treatment. Lasers need hair in the follicle to be the "target". If you have no hair, you have no target!

To learn more about the services at Pulse Laser and Skincare Center, visit their site or call 212-802-1439 for a consultation!