Tips: What To Do Before And After Laser Hair Removal
Originally published on August 3, 2017. Updated March 2, 2021 to include additional information
In recent years laser hair removal has grown to become one of the most popular hair removal techniques. Advancements in laser-based technologies have made the procedure a safer and better alternative to electrolysis.
Any laser-based treatment has the potential to yield undesired results. Common side effects of laser hair removal are swelling, redness, or irritation of the skin. All of which typically resolve on their own overtime without further intervention.
Laser hair removal is not a permanent hair removal solution, but with proper preparation results can last for years. Hair that does grow back will return thinner and more sparsely. To maximize your results, and limit any unwanted side effects, read through the following helpful tips on what to do before, during and after your treatment.
Before Laser Hair Removal
Your laser hair removal appointment will begin with a consultation. This office visit can last anywhere from 10-20 minutes. During this time, your doctor will review your medical history, discuss your goals with you, and explain how the treatment works.
Laser hair removal is most successful for those with light skin and dark hair because this contrast helps the laser ‘see’ your hair. This doesn’t mean you can’t receive treatment if you have blond hair or dark skin. During your consultation, your doctor will help you weigh the risk versus benefits for your skin and hair type.
When you’re ready to begin treatment, the following pointers will help maximize your results. Of course, follow your doctor’s advice if it differs from these guidelines.
- Always go for an in-person consultation with your provider before committing to a treatment. An experienced provider will be able to assess your candidacy and estimate the number of treatments you may need
- During your consultation discuss the types of medications you are currently taking. Some prescriptions can cause photosensitivity, which can lead to burns.
- Stop using skincare products with strong ingredients like retinoids, salicylic acid, hydroxy acid, and benzoyl peroxide.
- Your treatment will be more successful if your legs are pale. Greater contrast between your skin and hair follicles yields better results. Schedule your treatment for the fall or winter, or avoid all forms of tanning (i.e. tanning from the natural sun, tanning beds, spray tans, and self-tanning products) for 6 weeks prior to your treatment. Laser treatments on tanned skin can result in long-term pigmentation issues.
- Avoid plucking, waxing, or bleaching your hair for 6 weeks prior to your appointment as plucking out hair by the root will decrease the effectiveness of your laser treatment.
- Shave the day before your treatment (as directed by your provider). Shaving encourages the hair follicle to enter its active growing stage which is the ideal stage for laser targeting. Within 24 hours of your appointment, shave the area(s) to be treated. Do not wax or pluck. Shaving removes longer hairs while keeping the root intact. It’s the root of the hair the laser targets, so the root must be present for your treatment to work best.
- Take a shower right before your appointment and clean the treatment area, making sure to remove dirt and oil from the skin. Avoid using any skincare products (including moisturizer) after you cleanse.
- Avoid lotions, oils, and deodorants prior to treatment. Arrive to your appointment with clean, dry skin. Moisturizers, creams, lotions, or oils can prevent the laser from accessing the root, as can sweat or other debris. If you are treating your underarms, avoid wearing deodorant until after your appointment.
- Follow your doctor’s orders and discontinue blood thinners, such as aspirin, anti-inflammatory medications, or antibiotics prior to your treatment. If you’ve taken any new medications since your consultation, let your doctor know.
- At least two weeks prior to your appointment, refrain from Botox and dermal fillers. Also, avoid any treatments that increase skin sensitivity such as microdermabrasion or chemical peels. In the week prior to your treatment, discontinue using products that cause photosensitivity.
During Your Laser Hair Removal Treatment
During your laser hair removal appointment, your doctor or technician will review with you the area(s) to be treated. If you’re treating a bikini line or facial area, the technician may draw a line on your skin to indicate the treatment boundary.
The treatment area will be cleansed and prepared while your technician reminds you what to expect. Everyone experiences the sensation of laser hair removal differently. Most describe the feeling as similar to a rubber band being snapped against your skin. Your doctor may prepare the area with a numbing cream if pain is an issue for you.
While areas undergoing treatment must be exposed, all other areas of your body will be covered with your clothing or strategically placed sheets, similar to a massage. During treatment, everyone in the room will wear protective eye-wear, including you. This does not mean you won’t see flashes of the light, but you can rest assured your eyes are protected.
After Laser Hair Removal
The most common, yet short-lived, side effect of laser hair removal is swelling and redness in the treatment area. For the first few hours, you might even feel like you have a mild sunburn. Swelling and redness should subside within 1-3 days. During this time, it’s safe to use aloe vera or topical cooling creams to reduce discomfort.
Your hair will not fall out immediately during treatment, but slowly over the following few weeks. Because each of our hair follicles are on separate growth cycles, it’s normal to experience some patchy re-growth. These areas will be treated at follow-up visits, until regrowth has been eliminated.
Make sure to follow these tips following your laser hair removal treatment session:
- Attend any scheduled follow-up or maintenance treatments as directed by your provider in a timely manner
- Avoid the sun (and tanning beds) and wear a high-quality sunscreen as UV exposure can irritate the treated skin and complicate the hair removal process.
- For the first 24-hours after your appointment, avoid all types of heat. Hot showers or baths, saunas, steam rooms, and exercise can lead to discoloration or infection. After 24 hours, it’s ok to return to the gym, but continue to avoid the sun for up to 2 weeks. UV light, including that from tanning beds, can lead to scarring or permanent pigmentation.
- “Sun-less” tanning options like spray tans or self-tanning products can be used between treatment sessions as long as their use is discontinued 2 weeks prior to your next treatment.
- Continue to shave, instead of plucking, tweezing, or waxing, if you need to remove hair between treatments
- Gently exfoliate the treated skin 2-3 times per week using a loofah or washcloth. This minimizes the risk of developing ingrown hairs.
- Keep the retinoids and hydroxy acids on hold for up to one week after your treatment. Instead, use a gentle cleanser and soothing, moisturizing lotion. Wait at least two weeks before scheduling microdermabrasion, chemical peels, Botox or dermal fillers.
- Take lukewarm showers for the first week after your treatment
- Avoid using perfumes or deodorants for 48 hours after your treatment
When To Schedule Your Next Treatment Session
You’ll need between 2-6 appointments to achieve your final results. Typically, areas of quick hair growth, such as the upper lip, will require repeat appointments every 4-8 weeks. In areas where hair grows slowly, such as the back, appointments may be spaced every 12-16 weeks.
Scheduling your full treatment series ahead of time can help you better prepare for each appointment, and you’ll reap the best results.