Cosmetic Procedures
Laser Hair Removal: What to Expect Before, During, and After

If you are tired of shaving, plucking, or waxing to get rid of unwanted hair, you may be considering laser hair removal. The following explains what happens before, during, and after this procedure.

What to Expect Before Laser Hair Removal
A consultation is essential. Your dermatologist will gather your medical history. During this consultation, be sure to tell your dermatologist if you have:

  • A tendency to scar

  • Ever had a keloid (type of raised scar)

  • A history of cold sores or genital herpes

  • Taken isotretinoin (a medication used to treat severe acne) or are taking any other medication

The dermatologist also will examine your skin because the success of this procedure depends on considering a number of factors. These factors include where the unwanted hair is on the body, the color and coarseness of the hair, and where the hair is in its cycle.

Between your consultation and day of the procedure, it is important to follow your dermatologist’s instructions. This will include protecting your skin from the sun and not using a tanning bed. Wearing a broad-spectrum (protects against UVA and UVB rays) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher everyday will help shield your skin from the sun.

You also should not pluck, wax, or have electrolysis for at least 1 month before laser hair removal. It is okay to shave, bleach, or use a cream that dissolves hair. In fact, you may be asked to shave the area the day before the procedure.

What to Expect During Laser Hair Removal
When you arrive, the area will be cleansed. A topical anesthetic may be applied if the area is very sensitive or a large area will be treated. Most topical anesthetics require 30 to 60 minutes to work.

The actual procedure will take place in a room set up specifically for laser treatments. Everyone in the room must wear protective eyewear during the procedure. To perform the procedure, the skin is held taut and a laser is fired. Many patients say that the laser pulses feel like warm pinpricks or a rubber band being snapped against the skin. You also may feel a cool spray, which is used to protect the skin from the heat produced by the laser.

Each time the laser is fired, hair will be vaporized and cause small plumes of smoke that have a sulfur-like smell.

How long this procedure lasts depends on the size of the treated area. A small area such as the upper lip may require several minutes. It can take more than 1 hour to treat the back.

After Laser Hair Removal
You may see some redness and swelling, but laser hair removal generally does not require downtime. You can return to normal activities as long as the activities do not require any physical exertion for 24 hours.

Be sure to follow all of the dermatologist’s instructions, which will include protecting your skin from the sun for several weeks and not use a tanning bed or other tanning device. Not following your dermatologist’s instructions increases the risk of developing side effects.

Ort RJ. “Laser Hair Removal.” In: Kaminer MS, Dover JS, Arndt KA, editors. Atlas of Cosmetic Surgery. United States of America, W. B. Saunders Company; 2002. p. 179-91.

Sadick N. “Lasers.” In: Sadick, Moy, Lawrence, et al. Concise Manual of Dermatologic Surgery. China, McGraw-Hill Companies; 2008. p. 90-1.

Alexiades-Armenakas MR, Dover JS, Arndt KA. “Laser Therapy.” In: Bolognia JL, Jorizzo JL, Rapini RP et al, editors. Dermatology. 2nd edition. Spain, Mosby Elsevier; 2008. p. 2099 and 2109-11.

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Cosmetic Procedures: Laser Hair Removal





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Page last updated 11/13/08

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