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Everything You Need to Know About Laser Hair Removal

The one thing everyone talks about with laser hair removal is the pain. When I’d tell friends I was considering it, they’d warn me with anecdotes like, “It hurts 10 times more than a Brazilian wax” or “It’s worse than getting a tattoo.” Then, they’d always follow up with, “It’s worth it!!” Never having to shave, or wax, or thread again (and pay for all of the above) is worthy of enduring minutes of discomfort, they’d say. With that in mind, I booked my first appointment at The Dermatology and Laser Group in New York. Feeling a little jittery, I decided to start small with only one area up for treatment, my underarms, which I’ve been shaving (and dealing with daily stubble) since I was 12 years old.

I came in specifically to try the Motus AX, a brand new Alexandrite laser (the strongest kind), which not only promised to work equally well for all skin tones, but be “painless.” I was skeptical as hell. But, as soon as we got started and I braced myself only to feel an ice cool glass comfortably running up and down my skin, I was convinced. That’s it? It took less than five minutes and I felt ZERO pain. I have a really low tolerance, for the record—even just threading or plucking a single hair makes me cry.

One month has passed and the thick, coarse hair on my underarms is already 70 percent gone. Poof! They’ve never looked smoother and I’m thrilled. I haven’t had ingrown hairs, or razor bumps, and even though I still have to shave for now, it has never been easier. I’ll come back for three to five more sessions to get the rest off (it’ll likely be less since I don’t have much left), and I plan to get my bikini line done as well. And maybe legs. And maybe arms. And maybe upper lip? Okay, I’m fully converted.

If, like me, you were apprehensive about trying laser hair removal and now want to dive in, allow tips from The Dermatology and Laser Group’s founder and director of dermatology Dr. Arash Akhavan to quell any of your concerns. Here’s absolutely everything you need to know before going to your first appointment.

You want to have the safest experience to avoid scarring and other harmful risks. “People think because it’s hair-related it’s on the same plane as waxing and other spa procedures,” Akhavan says. “There are spas and other places where untrained people have done it, so selecting the right provider is important.”

You can’t wax the area for at least one month before getting laser.

Same goes for threading or any method that pulls hair out by the root. You have to stick to shaving, and before your appointment, you have to make sure you’re cleanly shaven on the chosen area. The reason for this is because hair needs to have its roots for the laser to effectively target it.

Be transparent with your provider.

Akhavan stresses that you need to disclose if you’re taking antibioitics, acne treatments, or anything that makes you sensitive to the sun. He also says you should tell your practitioner if you get cold sores or other herpes lesions because the light from the laser can activate a breakout and you want to make sure you’re medicated to prevent it.

Know the different kinds of lasers available.

The Motus AX laser I tried is an Alexandrite laser, which is one of three technologies for laser hair removal and the most powerful. The second most powerful is a diode laser and the weakest but safest laser is the Nd:YAG, which is usually recommended to those with more pigment in their skin. “There are these three wavelengths incorporated into lasers from different brands—kind of like how you could have tissue paper and it’s Kleenex or Scott—and they’ll make minor tweaks but they’re all essentially the same,” Akhavan explains, “The Motus sets itself apart pretty significantly. It’s an Alexandrite but used in a way that’s safe enough for darker skin.”

Skin color plays an important factor in laser hair removal.

“The way laser hair removal works is the beam is going in attracted to the color of black. So, anywhere there is black or close to black, like brown, it absorbs the energy and the laser suddenly heats that root destroying it,” Akhavan says. When someone has less melanin in their skin and they’re fair, all of the energy of the laser is more likely to go straight to the hair follicle. When someone has deeper skin, there’s less of a contrast between the color of their skin and the hair follicle. “We have to ride a line between burning the hair follicle but not burning the skin. You’ll need more treatments at a lower energy,” Akhavan says, likening controlling laser energy to controlling a cellphone screen’s brightness. “When we turn up the energy it sends a beam brighter and deeper.”

Six sessions is the standard amount it takes to remove hair.

At any given time, one out of six hairs is in the growth phase, known as the anagen phase, and only those hairs absorb laser energy all the way down to the root to be permanently eliminated. Repeat sessions are needed so you can cover all the hair. “In six weeks, you come back and the next set of hair is in the growth phase and now we’re going to get that one of six hairs until, statistically, 90 to 95 percent of the hair is permanently gone,” Akhavan elaborates.

The actual removal process is quick.

For smaller areas like the underarms, it can be as fast as five minutes or less, while larger areas like the thighs and legs take half an hour per session.

Yes, laser hair removal will hurt.

Unless you’re trying the Motus AX laser I tried out, discomfort from the zaps is to be expected. Practitioners typically use numbing creams, external devices that blow cold air, and advise patients to take Advil, but these can only do so much. “It’s one of the more excruciating, painful things,” Akhavan warns (yikes), but again is impressed with the Motus AX’s painless system. “We haven’t had anything like this,” he says.

Aftercare is really simple.

You’ll be able to walk out of the office virtually feeling like nothing is different. Over the next few weeks between your sessions, the eliminated hair will fall out. Akhavan says patients should make sure to use sunscreen and take a lukewarm shower over a hot shower (it promotes further inlfammation), then once a week using a wash cloth or other exfoliating tool to lightly exfoliate the treated area to decrease chances for ingrowns.

Laser removal can work on any body part, but some require more touchup sessions.

The two areas in women where hair removal is not completely permanent is the areola and on the face, because they are under hormonal control. “When it comes to the face on women, the number of touchup session is, truthfully, infinite. You’re going to keep doing removal every year having new follicles that you’ll have to manage. it will be an ongoing thing,” he claims. The good news is popular areas like the legs, underarms, and bikini area are prone to losing hair as we age. “They’re never coming back and new hairs aren’t going to grow in their place.” Akhavan says.

It will cost you a lot of money.

It depends on the area, but Akhavan shares that six sessions range from $900 to $2000 depending on the surface area you’re treating, and single session prices are $200 to $500. If you add up how much you spend yearly on monthly waxes, buying new cartridges for your razors, or going threading, however, you might find paying $2000 for a near-permanent solution is very well worth it.