After years of waxing, shaving and plucking, you’re finally ready to take the plunge and try laser hair removal. But how does it work? And does it hurt? And is it expensive? We asked Sejal Shah, M.D., an NYC dermatologist (who you can find on RealSelf), to set us straight.
Don’t tweeze or wax in advance
“The laser targets the pigment in the hair so the hair has to be present within the hair follicle for it to work,” explains Dr. Shah. In other words, it's best to avoid tweezing, waxing, threading or anything that removes the root of the hair from the follicle for at least two weeks before doing laser treatment. It’s totally fine, however, to shave before your treatment. In fact, Dr. Shah recommends doing so the day before so that the laser can focus more precisely on the follicles.
Not all hair can be lasered
Yep, not all hair is equal in the eyes of the great, mighty laser machine. That’s because the laser is more likely to pick up darker pigment, aka darker hair, especially when you have lighter skin. “There are specialty lasers that are safe for use on darker skin types,” says Dr. Shah. “But if you have light hair, you may not see results. Lasers don't target the hairs themselves, but the pigment within the hairs, so light hairs (e.g., blonde, red or gray) don't contain enough pigment to be detected.”
Skip the sun beforehand
It might not be your favorite look, but the most ideal candidate for laser hair removal is someone who hasn’t spent a long time in the sun…for a month before treatment. “Skin that’s tanned has more pigment and is closer in color to the hair, which makes it harder for the laser to distinguish between the hair and skin,” says Dr. Shah. “This can sometimes make the treatments potentially less effective. The increased pigment in the skin will also attract energy from the laser, increasing the risk of burn or discoloration.” (FYI, this goes for tanning beds, too.)